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Ukraine President To Ditch Antiprotest Laws After Talks With Opposition


Violent Clashes Spread To Ukraine's East
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WATCH: Violent clashes spread to Ukraine's east (natural sound).

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has agreed in talks with opposition leaders in Kyiv to scrap controversial antiprotest laws.

A statement on the president's website also said one of the opposition leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, had formally rejected Yanukovych's offer that he become prime minister.

In the January 27 meeting, Yanukovych reportedly conditioned a proposed amnesty for arrested protesters on demonstrators putting and end to the occupation of government buildings and ending their round-the-clock protests and tent camp on Kyiv's Independence Square.

Earlier, European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was "alarmed" by reports the Ukrainian government could declare a state of emergency to crack down on antigovernment protesters, saying such an actiion could trigger a "further downward spiral."

In a written statement, Ashton urged leaders of the opposition to "dissociate themselves from those who resort to violence."

Yanukovych and Justice Minister Olena Lukash met with opposition leaders Yatseyuk, Oleh Tyahnybok, and Vitali Klitschko for talks on how to ease the unrest gripping the country.

The country's main opposition parties had pledged earlier in the day to continue talks with Yanukovych while warning that the patience of antigovernment protesters could "snap" at any moment.

In that joint statement, opposition leaders said they were ready to negotiate "despite an attempt by the authorities to abandon the negotiations and declare a state of emergency."

Also on January 27, jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko released a statement on her website calling on the opposition not to accept the "humiliating conditions" the government was offering.

Antigovernment demonstrators meanwhile ended their occupation of Ukraine's Justice Ministry after 16 hours but maintained a blockade outside the building.

Justice Minister Lukash had warned protesters to leave the ministry building, and said she was considering asking Ukraine's Security Council to impose a state of emergency.

Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara subsequently issued a climbdown, saying there was no need to declare a state of emergency at the time.

"According to the constitution and law in Ukraine, the introduction of the state of emergency is a very complicated procedure," Kozhara said.

"It should go firstly through the National Security and Defense Council, through the presidential endorsement and adoption by the parliament. Today, this matter is not on the table.

The protests have continued since Yanukovych's government backed away from negotiations for an EU Association Agreement in late November, but they quickly spiraled into bloodshed after the adoption in January of the strict antiprotest legislation.

'Symbolic Act'

Oleksandr Danylyuk of the Common Cause movement, which occupied the Justice Ministry, said on his Facebook page earlier on January 27 that the blockade would continue. He called on people from around Ukraine to come to Kyiv and help block all government buildings.

One protester told the Reuters news agency that occupying the Justice Ministry was a "symbolic act," adding that "these authorities have been stripped of justice."

The ruling Party of Regions had called on Ukraine's prosecutor-general to prosecute any "anticonstitutional" actions that may be taken by antigovernment protesters who have occupied regional legislatures and other local government buildings.

The statement by Yanukovych's party on January 27 said that "fascist youths" were "trying to carry out a coup."

The statement accused opposition leaders in Kyiv of ordering protesters occupying regional government buildings to set up self-proclaimed local legislatures and governing committees.

Protesters have occupied municipal offices in about 10 regions in the west of the country, where opposition is strongest.

In Kharkiv, the Party of Regions has made a public call for a "mobilization of supporters" in the area to take part in defending the constitution. The Kharkiv provincial council called for an "extraordinary all-Ukrainian gathering" of the primary organizations of the Party of Regions to be held in Kharkiv on February 1.

In Crimea, officials have approved using "volunteer people's guards" to help police "check mass rioting" and ensure "normal functioning of enterprises, institutions and organizations" in the autonomous republic.

The Local Government Association of the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol issued a statement calling on President Yanukovych to declare a nationwide state of emergency. It denounced opposition leaders Tyahnybok, Klitschko, and Yatsenyuk as "political extremists."

Donetsk Governor Andriy Shyshatskiy said on January 27 that a group of "instigators" attempted unsuccessfully provoke the storming and seizure of the regional administration building.

ALSO READ: Protesters Seize Control Of Regional Administrations

Earlier, in the Ukrainian capital on January 26, thousands turned out for the funeral of Mikhail Zhyzneuski, one of three protesters who died in clashes with riot police on January 22. He will be buried in Belarus.

Ukrainian businessman and former Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko called Zhyzneuski a "martyr."

"I believe that people who gave the orders [to open fire] will certainly answer for it," he said. "I think Mikhail is a martyr. He chose to die as an Orthodox martyr for the future of Ukraine. And the main thing now is not just to punish those responsible but not to betray the cause he died for."

WATCH: Thousands Attend Funeral Of Slain Protester
Thousands Attend Funeral Of Slain Protester
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Ukraine's current defense minister, Pavlo Lebedyev, said on January 26 that the Ukrainian armed forces would not intervene in the current conflict. "The army will abide strictly by the constitution and laws of Ukraine," he said in an interview with the ITAR-TASS news agency.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis called for an end to violence in Ukraine and urged "constructive dialogue" between Ukraine's authorities and the people. The pontiff appealed for the "spirit of peace and search for the common good" to prevail in Ukraine.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen voiced concern.

"I strongly condemn the violence we have seen. I underline that the government is ultimately responsible for de-escalating the crisis and protecting peaceful demonstrators," Rasmussen said.

"I urge all sides to avoid escalation and violence and to work for a solution based on dialogue because a sovereign, independent, and stable Ukraine firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law is key to Euro-Atlantic security."

And at the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the authorities and the opposition to start a "constructive dialogue."

Opposition leader Klitschko told the German newspaper "Bild am Sonntag" on January 26 that Yanukovych’s proposal for the opposition to join the government -- including taking the post of prime minister -- was a "poisoned offer to divide our protest movement."

Klitschko said the opposition would push for a snap presidential election, among other demands.

The unrest began in November when Yanukovych abruptly decided not to sign a deal on closer ties with the EU, allegedly under pressure from the Kremlin.

Activists say the protests have been fueled by anger at widespread government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, ITAR-TASS, Interfax, and AP
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