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Yanukovych Says Authorities Fulfilled All Obligations; Opposition Denounces Amnesty


Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych admitted the authorities had made mistakes and promised to show "more understanding" for people's needs and aspirations. (file photo)
KYIV -- President Viktor Yanukovych says Ukraine's authorities have fulfilled all their obligations to resolve the crisis in the country and accused the opposition of continuing to increase tensions.

Yanukovych, in a statement released by his office on January 30, admitted the authorities had made mistakes and promised to show "more understanding" for people's needs and aspirations.

The statement came after opposition leaders denounced a law that offers an amnesty to detained antigovernment protesters, but only if other protesters vacate government buildings they now occupy.

The legislation was sent on January 30 to Yanukovych, who has 15 days to sign it.

Meanwhile, Yanukovych's office said that the president had taken sick leave due to "acute respiratory disease accompanied by fever." It did not specify when the president might return to work.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said that "instead of lowering the temperature in society, this is going to raise it." He said the law would allow the authorities to hold the detainees as "hostages" until buildings are freed.

The amnesty law "first needs to come into force and only after that can it be implemented. However, we are certain that this law -- as well as many other laws -- does not correspond to the interests of the people," Klitschko said.

"The law that has been adopted is very much like a Somalia pirates' law, where people are being taken hostage and then released only in exchange for something."

Parliament passed the amnesty bill on January 29 with backing from Yanukovych's Party of Regions, but the opposition refused to vote.

Yanukovych personally visited parliament ahead of the vote late on January 29 and threatened early parliamentary elections if the Party of Regions did not support the bill.

The text of the bill -- published on the parliament's website on January 30 -- says protesters must leave occupied buildings no later than 15 days after the law comes into force. Protesters will have to leave all occupied administrative buildings in Kyiv and across Ukraine, as well as Hrushevskyy Street in the capital, the site of violent clashes with police last week.

The Prosecutor-General's Office said on January 30 that 234 protesters had been detained since antigovernment protests began in late November. About 140 of them remain in custody awaiting trial. It also said four people had been killed in clashes between protesters and police and some 500 people, including 253 police officers, had been injured.

Antigovernment protesters are occupying several key buildings in Kyiv, including the city hall. They also have erected barricades in the center of the Ukrainian capital where they have camped out for two months.

Kyiv Protesters Defiant

Demonstrators on the streets Kyiv in the early morning hours of January 30 denounced the move by parliament as inadequate and continued their calls for Yanukovych's resignation and the scheduling of national elections.

One demonstrator called Nastya, from the town of Vinnitsia, told reporters that the protesters would "only disperse when we completely change all the authorities."

"First and foremost when [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych is no longer in power, the cabinet of ministers is completely changed and we have a new government. Then we will go home and elect a new president. And I will be among last to leave," she added.

PHOTO GALLERY: With Ukrainian protesters occupying several key buildings in Kyiv, the heart of the demonstrations, Independence Square, continues to live a life of its own.

Opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko said the Ukrainian authorities had wrongly restricted negotiations to the issue of a possible amnesty in exchange for the departure of protesters from government administrative buildings.

Lutsenko said protesters would only leave Kyiv city administration buildings and the barricades on Hrushevskyy Street after three conditions were met -- passage by parliament of an amnesty bill, votes in favor of a return to Ukraine’s 2004 constitution, and the formation of a caretaker government or the formation of a cabinet by the opposition.

He also said protesters would continue to occupy Ukraine’s Trade Unions House and Khreshchatyk Street in central Kyiv until the date for an early presidential election was scheduled.

Protesters occupy at least three buildings in Kyiv, using them as dormitories and operation centers. The buildings have become key support facilities for an extensive protest tent camp in central Kyiv.

A Need For 'Real Dialogue'

Demonstrators have been gathered there since November, when President Yanukovych announced he was rejecting a deal for closer ties with the European Union in order to maintain better relations with Russia.
Ukrainian opposition deputies react during a session in parliament in Kyiv on January 29 in which the amnesty law was passed, without their participation.
Ukrainian opposition deputies react during a session in parliament in Kyiv on January 29 in which the amnesty law was passed, without their participation.

Parliament's amnesty offer comes after lawmakers on January 28 overturned antiprotest laws it had approved earlier in January -- the laws under which many of Kyiv's jailed protesters have been detained.

Yanukovych must now also sign off on parliament's decision to rescind the laws.

The amnesty offer also follows the resignation of the Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his entire cabinet on January 28 in the midst of the country's increasingly violent crisis.

Whether the next cabinet will include members of Ukraine's pro-EU opposition remains unclear.

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said after talks in Kyiv with Yanukovych on January 29 that the dialogue between the Ukrainian president and opposition leaders "needs to become a real dialogue" in order to "address the concerns that people genuinely have about the future" of Ukraine.

"Constitution and constitutional reform -- we've heard a great deal about that. Today as well. I think that is important," Ashton said.

"Then, moving further forward, [it is important] to think about those coming elections -- free and fair elections -- that will take place in the future and the importance of engaging with those who can help support that process."

But Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced visits to Kyiv by EU officials, describing them as interference in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.

Putin also said on January 29 that Russia would wait until a new Ukrainian government is formed before it fully provides a $15 billion bailout that Moscow offered to Yanukovych after the Ukrainian president in November announced his rejection of closer trade and political ties with the EU.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter that there are "signs that the Kremlin is once again stepping up economic measures against Ukraine."

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa, and Interfax
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