KIEV: Ukraine's pro-EU opposition leaders jetted to Germany for talks with Angela Merkel on Monday as the country took a small step to resolving its worst post-Soviet crisis with the adoption of a political amnesty.
A law dropping criminal charges against hundreds of protesters came into force a day after they left municipal buildings occupied in December in response to President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to reject an EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with Russia.
However nearly three months after the protests began, the opposition remains firmly entrenched in a sprawling tent city on Kiev's central Independence Square. Activists have also been allowed to continue occupying several public buildings.
Yanukovych proposed the amnesty at the beginning of the month as he sought to pacify protesters following deadly clashes in Kiev in January.
"Something very important has happened. We have proved that we do not abandon our comrades in trouble," said nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party leader Oleg Tyagnybok.
Vitali Klitschko, a former champion boxer turned opposition leader, on Monday called on the authorities to pardon the hundreds of activists who are currently being held under house arrest.
"The authorities are still keeping hostages. That's unacceptable," he said before leaving for Germany.
Some of the protesters who had their charges lifted under the amnesty had been facing jail terms of up to 15 years.
Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, another opposition leader, were set to meet Merkel in Berlin later Monday.
Klitschko's office said he planned to discuss "the political situation in Ukraine and the prospect of bringing in EU sanctions against representatives of the Yanukovych regime".
Klitschko was also scheduled to meet German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, his office said.
"We need help. We don't need words, we need action," Yatsenyuk told tens of thousands of protesters on Independence Square on Sunday.
"We want Europe to say clearly what package of economic measures it can offer us."
The protesters had occupied Kiev city hall since December, creating an orderly headquarters with places to sleep, a first aid area and even English classes.
The opposition has also agreed to vacate part of Grushevsky Street, where riots left several dead and hundreds hurt in late January, to allow traffic to move freely.
On Sunday, an opening had been carved out in one of the street's barricades, but this was still fiercely guarded by a row of protesters in combat gear.
In the western city of Lviv, municipal workers overnight dismantled a barricade outside the city hall after protesters quit the building, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.
But protesters still have a host of unmet demands, including a major reform of the constitution to reduce presidential powers in favour of the government and parliament.
Yanukovych dismissed his unpopular government after the deadly riots, but he has yet to appoint a new one and the opposition wants its members to be placed in key positions.
A Yanukovych aide said Monday that the president was consulting with "experts" over the nomination of a new premier and that he would make his decision soon.
"The president will announce the candidature of the prime minister in parliament after the end of the consultations. That will happen in the near future," presidential representative in parliament Yury Miroshnychenko told RIA Novosti.
Ultimately, protesters want Yanukovych himself to leave, and the opposition is calling for a major rally on Tuesday in front of parliament.
Andreas Umland, a political scientist at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in the Ukrainian capital, said the government and opposition were thought to be negotiating a form of power-sharing to be implemented before early presidential elections are held.
"For now the main question is whether Yanukovych will agree to power-sharing, what kind of power-sharing and how much power will be left to the office of the president," he said.