Ukrainian parliament repeals anti-protest laws, PM resigns
KYIV, Ukraine -- In back-to-back moves aimed at defusing Ukraine's political crisis, the prime minister resigned Tuesday and parliament repealed anti-protest laws that had set off violent clashes between protesters and police.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 anti-government protesters who have fought sporadically with police for the last 10 days after two months of peaceful around-the-clock demonstrations. The protests ignited after President Viktor Yanukovych decided to turn toward Russia for a bailout loan instead of signing a deal with the European Union, but have since morphed into a general plea for more human rights, less corruption and more democracy in this nation of 45 million.
The departure of Mykola Azarov as premier would remove one of the figures most disliked by opposition forces whose protests have turned parts of the Ukrainian capital into a barricaded maze.
Yet key issues remain unresolved in Ukraine's political crisis, including the opposition's repeated demands for Yanukovych to resign and a new election to be held.
Yanukovych accepted the prime minister's resignation but asked him to stay on in an acting role until a new government is formed. The president did not say when that government was expected to begin work.
Azarov's announcement came just before the opening of a special parliament session that approved the repeal of anti-protest laws that had set off violent clashes between protesters and police.
Earlier this month, the president had 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"We have repealed all the laws against which the whole country rose up," he said.
Yanukovych over the weekend had offered the premiership to Yatsenyuk, but the opposition leader refused the post. No obvious successor to Azarov has emerged.
Azarov's departure brought encouragement to people at the protest encampment in Kyiv, 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 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.
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 consider the amnesty measure for protesters on Wednesday.
Yanukovych's cash-strapped government just managed to avoided bankruptcy with the money pledged by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia spent $3 billion to buy Ukrainian government bonds in December, and has promised to spend up to $15 billion.
Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.