Ukraine protesters defy terms of new amnesty law

Protesters on the front line have built a giant catapult to fire cobblestones with, as Matthew Price reports

Protesters in Ukraine have rejected the terms of a new amnesty law aimed at ending the country's recent unrest.

Parliament backed an amnesty for detainees if protesters vacated the government buildings they had occupied and unblocked streets and squares.

The opposition has rejected this and protesters remain camped out in central Kiev and still occupy key buildings.

The protests began in November after President Viktor Yanukovych reversed a decision to sign an EU trade deal.

The next month he signed a $15bn (£9.2bn; 10.9bn euros) bailout deal with Russia.

A statement on the presidential website on Thursday said Mr Yanukovych, 63, was on sick leave due to respiratory illness and high fever.

'Defend ourselves'

The new amnesty law will not come into effect unless protesters leave the local administration buildings they have occupied across Ukraine within 15 days.

Ukraine unrest - 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

16 Jan 2014: Parliament passes law restricting the right to protest

22 Jan: 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

28 Jan: Parliament votes to annul protest law and President Yanukovych accepts resignation of PM and cabinet

29 Jan: Parliament passes amnesty law for detained protesters, under the condition occupied buildings are vacated

The pro-EU protesters have taken over a number of properties in Kiev and other cities which they are using as operation centres and dormitories, and to seek refuge from the freezing conditions outside.

The text of the amnesty document says they must remove the barricades they have built in central Kiev and unblock other streets and squares across the country - except in places where protests are peaceful.

The amnesty is the latest of a number of concessions from President Yanukovych to try to end the unrest, including the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet and the repeal of new anti-protest laws.

However, the opposition abstained from voting on the amnesty law on Wednesday.

Boxer-turned-protest leader Vitali Klitschko told crowds gathered in Independence Square in Kiev that the fight would go on.

An MP for the Fatherland party, Andriy Parubiy, told 5 Kanal TV: "The demands that they have set are unacceptable and nobody is going to fulfil them. We said that the law should come into force without any prior conditions. Our position remains unchanged."

Another MP, Inna Bohoslovska, told 5 Kanal that the amnesty law was a stalling device.

There were cheers from some and anger from others as the bill was passed

"They will use these 15 days during which buildings should be vacated in order to get rid of everyone they believe will not submit at the first snap of their fingers and gather forces for a real attack on their own people.

"So we have to prepare to defend ourselves."

Protesters on the streets also showed defiance.

Police in Independence Square, 30 Jan The amnesty law requires streets to be unblocked, except for peaceful protest
Protesters in Independence Square in Kiev, 30 Jan There was no mood of compromise overnight on Independence Square in Kiev
Vitali Klitschko, 30 Jan Boxer-turned-protest leader Vitali Klitschko told crowds the fight would go on

One of them, Olga Lucuk-Visotska, told the BBC that the demonstrators considered those arrested as hostages and so the amnesty law was not seen as a compromise.

Start Quote

All our citizens wish a peaceful end to the story via political decisions and compromise”

End Quote Vadym, Kremenchuk resident

On Wednesday, Ukraine's first post-independence president, Leonid Kravchuk, warned the country was on the "brink of civil war".

And visiting EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was "shocked" by the deadly violence.

Moscow, meanwhile, has indicated that it may hold back some of a promised bailout package until a new government is formed.

The loans were widely seen as a reward for Kiev's rejection of the EU deal.

Meanwhile the US is preparing financial sanctions against both officials and protest leaders should the violence worsen, according to US congressional aides.

They said the details of the package had not been worked out but it could be imposed quickly should the situation deteriorate.

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