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Ukraine

Ukrainian parliament votes for protest amnesty

Ukraine's parliament has voted to give amnesty to arrested protesters on the condition they vacate all occupied government buildings. Opposition politicians boycotted the vote, calling for amnesty without conditions.

Amnesty for protesters

The Ukrainian parliament on Wednesday approved amnesty for protesters jailed during recent demonstrations on the condition that all currently occupied government buildings be vacated by protesters. About 100 people have been arrested and detained since protests began in November.

Over the course of two months, anti-government protesters have established a large tent camp in the main square of Kyiv, called Maidan, or Independence, and seized three buildings nearby as operation centers and sleeping quarters. They have also erected large barricades of ice, wood, furniture and other materials.

A different proposal discussed in parliament on Wednesday would have required protesters to leave the main protest hubs as well as the government buildings they occupy.

However, opposition leaders had said they would not accept amnesty conditions that included ending the protests. "The people came out onto the street to change the situation in the country," former professional boxing champion turned opposition politician Vitali Klitschko said. "To say now, 'We'll only let people free if the demonstrators go home is unacceptable."

Despite adjusting the terms to just demand the vacation of administration buildings, opposition members of parliament boycotted the vote.

The opposition has called for a blanket amnesty, President Viktor Yanukovych's resignation and early elections.

Small steps

The amnesty comes amid a series of concessions from Yanukovych. On Tuesday, the prime minister and government resigned, and parliament voted 361-2 to recall anti-protest laws.

Klitschko said he considered Tuesday's concessions to be "not a victory, but a step to victory."

Unrest first erupted two months ago when Yanukovych backed away from a deal with the European Union that would have strengthened ties with the bloc and instead opted to improve ties with Russia.

Clashes turned deadly last week after protesters reacted with anger to the introduction of the now-repealed protest law.

Russian response

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country would wait until Ukraine could form a new government before releasing a $15-billion (11-billion-euro) loans package in full. Putin's comments indicated that Moscow may reconsider its recent economic promises to debt-laden Ukraine, if the new government turns out to be staunchly anti-Russian.

"Let's wait until a new government is formed in Ukraine," Putin said in remarks to his cabinet. "But I ask you not to lose contact with your colleagues even in the current situation."

Putin's announcement came after senior allies had urged him to wait to see the makeup of Ukraine's new government before honoring December's agreement in full.

"Understanding the necessity of fulfilling all the agreements, we have to do it in a reasonable manner," Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said. "And it will be possible to do it in a reasonable manner only when we understand what the government will look like, who will work there and what rules they will stick to," he said at the meeting with Putin.

Merkel in parliament, on phone

In her annual address to Germany on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Ukraine's government to listen to the demonstrators. The pressure of the demonstrations has led to "serious talks on necessary political reforms" in Ukraine, Merkel said, voicing support for the "justified demands of the opposition."

"They must be heard," Merkel said.

In a telephone conversation with Putin later on Wednesday, Merkel asked the Russian president to "push at his end for a constructive dialogue between the opposition and the government" in Ukraine, according a statement from the chancellery which also specified that the chancellor had called President Yanukovych.

Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the chancellor told Putin that "all sides should fulfil their responsibility to the country's stability and the protection of civil rights."

mkg, hc/ccp (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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