Ukraine protesters leave justice ministry

The BBC's Duncan Crawford: Justice ministry is still blockaded

Ukrainian anti-government protesters have ended their occupation of the justice ministry after the minister threatened a state of emergency.

A spokesman for the protesters said they had left because they did not want to provoke the authorities.

The EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has brought forward a visit to Ukraine to Tuesday, citing "deep concern" about the situation.

Unrest has spread across Ukraine in recent days.

Protesters across the country have targeted, and in many cases occupied, the offices of regional authorities.

The protesters stormed the justice ministry building late on Sunday in a "symbolic act" to strip the authorities of justice.

Key dates

21 Nov 2013: Ukraine announces it will not sign a deal aimed at strengthening ties with the EU

30 Nov: Riot police detain dozens of anti-government protesters in a violent crackdown in Kiev

17 Dec: Russia agrees to buy $15bn of Ukrainian government bonds and slash the price of gas it sells to the country

22 Jan 2014: Two protesters die from bullet wounds during clashes with police in Kiev; protests spread across many cities

25 Jan: President Yanukovych offers senior jobs to the opposition, including that of prime minister, but these are rejected

Justice Minister Olena Lukash said she would request a state of emergency and demand all talks with the opposition cease.

Officials later said there was no plan to introduce such a measure.

The BBC's Duncan Crawford in Kiev says the protesters have now left the building, but a group of 30 is patrolling outside - dressed in military-style clothes, brandishing bats and refusing to let anyone in.

In a statement, Ms Ashton said she was "alarmed by reports that the government was planning to declare a state of emergency", and had brought forward a trip to Ukraine from Thursday to Tuesday.

She urged the government to repeal the anti-protest laws it passed on 16 January and the opposition to disassociate itself from violence, saying "the only solution to the crisis is a political one".

The crisis was sparked when President Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of a trade deal with the EU last November in favour of a $15bn (£9bn) bailout from Russia.

Thousands have joined protests against the government, erecting camps in Kiev and getting embroiled in sporadic clashes with security forces.

The unrest has escalated in recent days with the deaths of four activists.

Various protest groups have staged short occupations of several ministry buildings in the capital, Kiev, and attacked other municipal buildings across Ukraine.

Mr Yanukovych held a meeting with leaders of the three main opposition factions on Monday evening, including former boxer Vitali Klitschko.

Protesters stand guard inside the Justice Ministry in central Kiev, January 27 The protesters who had stormed the justice ministry on Sunday left on Monday afternoon
An anti-government protester looks at riot police at a road block in central Kiev on January 27 But the stand-off continues between protesters and police elsewhere in the city
Vitali Klitschko addresses the media in front of the Justice Ministry in Kiev, January 27 And legal moves continue that could see opposition leader Vitali Klitschko barred from running for president

Mr Klitschko was earlier ordered by a court to produce documentation for the time he spent in Germany and the US during his boxing career.

He could be stopped from running for president next year if the court rules he has paid taxes as a resident in a foreign country within the past 10 years.

The legal move comes after a change to the rules last year that critics say was aimed at disqualifying Mr Klitschko, who is likely to be the main opposition contender.

He has been a prominent pro-EU protester, and gains much of his support from the west of the country, where many people want closer ties with the EU and Western Europe.

Mr Yanukovych's power base is in the east and the south, which have close cultural and historical ties to Russia.

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