Protesters in Ukraine end two-month occupation of Kiev’s city hall

February 16

Protesters ended a two-month occupation of Kiev’s city hall Sunday and opened a road to limited traffic, meeting an amnesty offer aimed at easing a standoff over President Viktor Yanukovych’s rule.

The authorities, for their part, withdrew riot police from a flash-point district of the capital, near the Dynamo Kiev soccer stadium, where at least three protesters died in January in violence between activists and police.

Apparently accepting that the protesters had met the authorities halfway, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement that the amnesty would go into effect starting Monday. Authorities said criminal charges would be dropped against those protesters for violations committed between Dec. 27 and Feb. 2, a period that includes a week of clashes in which six people were killed and hundreds of police and protesters were injured.

Despite the conciliatory moves, opposition leaders sought to keep pressure on Yanukovych, telling a rally in Kiev’s Independence Square that he must abandon “dictatorial” powers and let them form a government independent of him.

On Tuesday, Yanukovych may present his candidate for prime minister to parliament — a choice that will show whether he is ready to make more concessions to the opposition after 12 weeks of often-ugly street confrontation.

Opposition leaders made it clear Sunday that they would also push in parliament for constitutional changes to reduce Yanukovych’s powers.

Demonstrators had swept into Kiev’s municipal building shortly after Yanukovych spurned a free-trade agreement long in the making with the European Union and opted for a $15 billion package of Russian credits and cheaper gas to shore up Ukraine’s ailing economy in November.

Masked men in military fatigues and the demonstrators they had protected against riot police since mid-December filed out of Kiev’s city hall Sunday, but they threatened to return if authorities did not carry out the amnesty promise. Andriy, 45, commander of about 100 men in black ski masks leaving city hall, said they were doing so with the understanding that charges against detained activists would be dropped.

Opposition deputies said protesters had similarly pulled out of municipal buildings in several areas of western Ukraine, a hotbed of opposition to Yanukovych, and in one part of the southeast where the president has retained more support.

In Brussels, E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she expected the authorities to close all pending court cases, including house arrests, “so as to facilitate the political dialogue in parliament this week.”

— Reuters

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