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Ukraine

EU, Germany react strongly to anti-protest bills in Ukraine

The EU has criticized Ukraine over laws that could stifle freedom of speech and assembly. President Viktor Yanukovych signed the bills into law late on Friday.

Ukrainian army warns against escalation of tensions

The bills restrict fundamental rights, curtail civil society organizations and run contrary to international obligations, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said, ahead of President Yanukovych's signing the bills into law Friday night. EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle, also responsible for the bloc's neighborhood policy, tweeted that he was "profoundly concerned" because the legislation contradicted "Ukraine's European aspirations."

Without giving specifics, Steffen Seibert, spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the decision would "inevitably have consequences for the cooperation with the European Union."

Ukraine's opposition lawmakers accused majority legislators of illegally curbing protest. The ruling party passed the bill with 235 ayes in the 450-seat chamber, taking the vote by a show of hands rather than the electronic system normally used.

The controversial vote led to fistfights in the parliament.

'The people's trust'

Under the bill, protesters face fines or prison. Offenses include blockading public spaces, entering public buildings en masse, facilitating protests through financial or logistical means, and setting up stages or tents in public spaces. Earlier Thursday, a court banned major demonstrations in central Kyiv until March 8.

"A true democracy cannot function without dialogue, compromise, the right to peaceful dissent and a legislature that enjoys the people's trust," US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Thursday. "If Ukraine truly aspires to a European future, it must defend and advance universal democratic principles and values that underpin a Europe whole, free, and at peace, and not allow them to be systematically dismantled," she added.

Hundreds of thousands have demonstrated since November, calling for Yanukovych to resign after he shelved an EU agreement. Critics said the president bowed to Russian pressure after the country offered a bailout loan worth $15 billion (11 billion euros) to aid Ukraine's economy.

Police violence led to increased protests. Though the protests have calmed, pro-European protesters continue to occupy Kyiv's central Freedom Square and a few government buildings. The opposition plans a new round of protests for the weekend in light of the bills.

Yanukovych "made a new step toward installing a real neodictatorship in Ukraine," the jailed protest leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said in a statement. She called the bills "the final liquidation of Ukraine's parliamentary system."

mkg/rg (AFP, dpa, AP)

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