Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych, left, greets United Nations Special Coordinator Robert Serry prior their talks in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Mykhailo Markiv, Pool)
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In the midst of Ukraine's endless political crisis, its embattled president went on sick leave Thursday, setting off a wave of conspiracy theories since protesters have been demanding his ouster for months.Vitali Klitschko, leader of the opposition party Udar, suggested a more ominous reason – that Yanukovych could be pretending to take himself out of action in preparation for imposing a state of emergency. That has been a persistent worry of the opposition since protesters clashed violently with police two weeks ago; three demonstrators were killed in those clashes. Temperatures in Kiev have dropped as low as minus-20 Celsius on some nights, bringing severe discomfort to those manning a sprawling round-the-clock protest tent camp on Kiev's main square.Despite offering several concessions, authorities have so far failed to mollify the protesters.Parliament passed a measure Wednesday offering amnesty to some of those arrested in the protests.There are conflicting figures on how many protesters are now in custody. One opposition lawmaker said Wednesday there were 328, whom he characterized as "hostages". After stepping back from the agreement with the EU, Yanukovych got a $15 billion aid package from Russia that also gives Ukraine lower prices for the Russian gas upon which the country depends.
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