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Ukraine amnesty bill gives protesters 15-day deadline

  • Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk, left, Vitali Klitschko, center, and Oleh Tyahnybok face the media, during a briefing in the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

KIEV: A bill passed by Ukraine's parliament to amnesty arrested activists gives protesters a 15-day deadline to leave occupied streets and administrative buildings otherwise it will not be implemented, according to the text published Thursday.

The passing of the amnesty bill was a crucial moment in Ukraine's crisis and is expected to form the basis of negotiations and disputes between the authorities and the opposition in the days to come.

The clock will start ticking on the 15-day deadline once the bill adopted at a raucous session by the Verkhovna Rada late Wednesday is signed by President Viktor Yanukovych and is published in state media to become law.

However, in a new twist in an increasingly blurry situation, the president has taken indefinite sick leave and he should only be able to sign the law when he is officially at work.

The opposition is furious with the bill as it makes the amnesty of dozens of activists arrested in bitter clashes with police conditional on protesters leaving key streets and buildings they have occupied in Kiev.

The votes of the majority ruling Regions Party were enough to push the legislation through the Verkhovna Rada but the opposition deputies refused to cast their votes.

The text of the bill was finally published Thursday after reports said that the draft had been so narrowly circulated that some Regions Party MPs did not know what they were voting for.

It says that all administrative buildings in Kiev and the regions, as well as other streets, seized by protesters will need to be freed for the amnesty to come into force.

This appears to include the Kiev city hall that has been occupied for two months by protesters but not the trade union house that is their headquarters.

Protesters will have to vacate the flashpoint Grushevsky Street in Kiev, where three activists were shot dead during bitter clashes with security forces.

They also have to leave streets and squares they have been occupying "except those where peaceful protest actions are taking place".

This opens the possibility that protesters could keep their hub of Independence Square in Kiev but the vaguely-worded text does not specify further.

"Such actions must be finished no later than 15 days after the law comes into force," said the text of the bill.

The text was passed at a chaotic late-night session of the Verkhovna Rada dismissed as a travesty by the opposition because the Volodymyr Rybak speaker allowed no debate on the text.

He closed the session immediately after the vote was taken and the opposition's cries of "Shame!" were drowned out by the playing of the Ukrainian national anthem at full volume.

Ukrainian media reports said that at least 40 Regions Party MPs had been willing to side with the opposition and prevent the bill from being adopted in its final version.

However in an extremely rare move, Yanukovych came to the Rada and warned his party he would call snap parliamentary elections if the legislation did not pass.

Almost all Regions Party MPs then voted with the government.

According to the Ukrainian news website Insider, the already ailing Yanukovych stormed into parliament "looking like marble" to bring his deputies into order.

"I was lying down and on a drip.... But seeing what was happening I came to you," Yanukovych told the deputies, according to Insider.

One of the deputies told the website: "I hadn't heard so much swearing for a long time. We were threatened with being squashed into the asphalt."

 
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Summary

A bill passed by Ukraine's parliament to amnesty arrested activists gives protesters a 15-day deadline to leave occupied streets and administrative buildings otherwise it will not be implemented, according to the text published Thursday.

The passing of the amnesty bill was a crucial moment in Ukraine's crisis and is expected to form the basis of negotiations and disputes between the authorities and the opposition in the days to come.

The votes of the majority ruling Regions Party were enough to push the legislation through the Verkhovna Rada but the opposition deputies refused to cast their votes.

Ukrainian media reports said that at least 40 Regions Party MPs had been willing to side with the opposition and prevent the bill from being adopted in its final version.


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