Ukraine 'to scrap' anti-protest law

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg: Eastward spread of unrest is a major concern for the authorities

The Ukrainian president and opposition leaders have agreed to scrap anti-protest laws that had fuelled anger at the government, the presidency says.

Viktor Yanukovych also offered an amnesty to protesters, but only if they cleared barricades and stopped attacking government buildings.

The president made the offer in talks with the three main opposition leaders.

The demonstrators had demanded the protest law be repealed, but they also want Mr Yanukovych to quit.

The law was hastily passed in parliament by Yanukovych loyalists on 16 January.

The changes included a ban on unauthorised tents in public areas, and criminal responsibility for slandering government officials.

Correspondents say it is likely to be overturned during a special session of parliament on Tuesday, arranged last week to discuss the crisis.

US Vice-President Joe Biden spoke by telephone to President Yanukovych late on Monday to express Washington's support for on-going negotiation to bring about a peaceful, political solution to the crisis.

He warned that enacting other harsh security measures would further inflame the situation and close the space for a peaceful resolution, a White House statement said.

Unrest spreads east

The law angered protesters and helped to spread unrest across Ukraine, even to Mr Yanukovych's Russian-speaking strongholds in the east.

The protesters, closely allied to the opposition parties, targeted government buildings and have briefly occupied several ministries in Kiev.

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

The president began the latest round of talks on Monday evening with Fatherland leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Udar (Punch) chief Vitali Klitschko, and nationalist leader Oleg Tyahnybok.

In a statement on the presidential website, Justice Minister Olena Lukash was quoted as saying that a "political decision was made on scrapping the laws of January 16, which aroused much discussion".

She also said Mr Yatsenyuk had formally rejected the post of prime minister, which was offered to him on the weekend.

There has not yet been public reaction from the opposition parties.

After previous talks, opposition leaders took Mr Yanukovych's proposed concessions to the protesters, who resoundingly rejected them.

Ashton to visit

Meanwhile, top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton has brought forward a planned visit to Ukraine by 48 hours and will now arrive on Tuesday for meetings with Mr Yanukovych and opposition leaders.

She said she was "alarmed" by reports on Monday that the government was preparing to introduce a state of emergency.

Multiple reports had suggested that the government was intending to invoke a state of emergency, but officials later said they had no such plan.

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

After months of largely peaceful demonstrations, Mr Yanukovych's government enraged demonstrators by passing the anti-protest law.

Four activists have died in incidents connected with the protests in recent days.

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