Ukrainian parliament repeals anti-protest laws

JIM HEINTZ MARIA DANILOVA Associated Press Published:

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- In back-to-back moves aimed at defusing Ukraine's political crisis, the prime minister submitted his resignation Tuesday and parliament repealed anti-protest laws that had set off violent clashes between protesters and police.

The twin moves were significant concessions to the protesters who have occupied the capital's main square for two months and fought sporadically with police for the last 10 days. Yet key issues remain unresolved in Ukraine's political crisis, including the opposition's repeated demands for President Viktor Yanukovych to resign and a new election to be held.

Peaceful protests against Yanukovych's decision to turn toward Russia for a bailout loan instead of signing a deal with the European Union turned violent after the president pushed through new laws to crack down on protests and raise prison sentences for creating disorder. The laws included prohibiting people from wearing helmets and gas masks, which many protesters had done due to fears that riot police would try to violently disperse their demonstrations.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a lawmaker who is one of the opposition's top figures, hailed the parliament's move.

"We have repealed all the laws against which the whole country rose up," he said.

The parliament vote Tuesday came hours after Prime Minister Mykola Azarov -- one of the government figures most disliked by opposition supporters -- submitted his resignation.

The move brought encouragement to people at the protest encampment, but no inclination to end their demonstrations.

"The authorities are afraid and making concessions. We should use this moment and continue our fight to achieve a change of power in Ukraine," said 23-year-old demonstrator Oleg Rudakov.

The opposition has accused Azarov of mismanaging the economy and condoning corruption, and they have ridiculed the Russian-speaker for his poor command of Ukrainian. Animosity toward him grew after the protests started in November when he labeled demonstrators extremists and refused to countenance any of their demands. As head of the Cabinet, he was also seen as bearing responsibility for the use of force by police, who are under the Interior Ministry.

Azarov's resignation must be accepted by the president, but that is likely to be only a formality. Yanukovych over the weekend had offered the premiership to Yatsenyuk, but the opposition leader refused the post.

The opposition also wants amnesty for scores of people arrested in the protests. But Yanukovych said Monday that such an amnesty is possible only if demonstrators agree to clear the streets and vacate the buildings they now occupy. That condition could be unacceptable to a large segment of the demonstrators.

The parliament is to vote later Tuesday on the amnesty measure for protesters.

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Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.