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Ukraine Parliament Repeals Antiprotest Laws As Prime Minister Resigns


A protester guards the barricades during antigovernment protests in Kyiv on January 27.
A protester guards the barricades during antigovernment protests in Kyiv on January 27.
Ukraine's parliament has repealed controversial antiprotest laws in a move aimed at ending two months of antigovernment protests.

A total of 361 lawmakers out of 412 present voted to repeal the legislation at a special session of parliament on January 28.

The laws had sparked violent clashes between antigovernment protesters and riot police when they were enacted earlier this month.

President Viktor Yanukovych agreed to abolish them on January 27 after talks with opposition leaders, who have made their repeal a key demand.

The vote came after Prime Minister Mykola Azarov -- a loyal Yanukovych ally -- announced he was stepping down. Yanukovych accepted Azarov's resignation, which entails the resignation of the entire cabinet.

Azarov's spokesman said First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov, a former central-bank chief, would step in as acting prime minister. Other ministers are to also continue in an acting capacity until a new government is formed.

Azarov said in a statement that he was resigning to create "an additional possibility for a political compromise to peacefully resolve the conflict."

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said Azarov's resignation was only "a step to victory." Another opposition leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, called Azarov's resignation an attempt to escape being held responsible.

"We have expected such a move from them because, every time we were bringing up the question of the government's resignation and the responsibility of some ministers of the government, namely [Interior Minister Vitaliy] Zakharchenko, for all that is going on in Ukraine, we understood that authorities were looking for the most favorable options for them to escape political and criminal responsibility and also to save face in front of their own team," Tyahnybok said.

Some protesters also had doubts about Azarov's ulterior motives.

"My personal opinion is that this government is incapable of being honest, and they have proven it on multiple occasions. There has never been a government that would so blatantly lie to its people and not value its people," one opposition protester told Reuters on Independence Square in Kyiv.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov (in file photo) announced his resignation on January 28.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov (in file photo) announced his resignation on January 28.
Yanukovych over the weekend offered the post of prime minister to another opposition leader, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, but Yatsenyuk turned down the offer.
On the eve of the special parliament session, Yanukovych met with the three main opposition leaders -- Yatsenyuk, Klitschko, and Tyahnybok -- and agreed to repeal controversial antiprotest laws passed by parliament on January 16.
Yanukovych also promised an amnesty for protesters arrested in the antigovernment demonstrations, but only if protesters would leave the streets and end their occupation of government buildings.
The opposition is demanding that Yanukovych himself resign and that an early election be called.

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported ahead of the special parliamentary session that the ruling Party of Regions showed signs of a rift among its lawmakers over Azarov's fate, perhaps its most serious crack since street protests began two months ago.

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"In reality, the problem that exists in Ukraine, the problem we are facing, is a result of the mediocre politics of the whole country's leadership," Klitschko told journalists late on January 27. "And it is stupid to search for the reasons in the people."
Opposition supporters inside the seized Justice Ministry on January 27
Opposition supporters inside the seized Justice Ministry on January 27

One of the radical factions within the broad-based protest movement has issued its own demands.
Right Sector, reported to be the driving force behind most of the recent violence, said it wants officials responsible for the deaths and abuse of protesters to be punished. It also wants Ukraine's feared riot police disbanded and missing opposition figures located.

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Antigovernment protests started in late November after Yanukovych suddenly decided not to sign a deal on closer ties with the European Union, after years of negotiations and days away from a summit in Vilnius where a signing was expected.
The protests have since turned into a mass movement against perceived misrule and corruption under Yanukovych's leadership.

The protests, initially centered mainly in Kyiv, have now spread across most of the country -- even to Yanukovych's strongholds in the Russian-speaking east.

Protesters claim they now hold administration buildings in 11 of Ukraine's 27 regions, mainly in the Ukrainian-speaking west.
EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton is traveling to Kyiv later on January 28, immediately after an EU-Russia summit in Brussels that is expected to be overshadowed by sharp differences over Ukraine.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in a telephone call a day earlier, warned Yanukovych against imposing a state of emergency, urged him to pull back riot police, and to work with the opposition to deescalate tensions.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Interfax, AFP, Reuters, and AP
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