Ukraine’s leader called for the opposition to yield some ground ahead of a new mass demonstration scheduled for today, after authorities released all protesters arrested in ongoing anti-government unrest.
The US welcomed the prisoner release as an “important step to de-escalate tensions” after more than two months of political crisis as protesters seek to oust Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
However, the government concession was unlikely to appease the protesters occupying Kiev’s central Independence Square and nearby buildings who are demanding a new, pro-Western government.
“I don’t want to wage war,” Yanukovych said in a televised interview. “I want to safeguard the state and resume a stable development. We are asking the opposition to also make concessions.”
Anti-government protests have raged since November last year, when Yanukovych rejected an EU trade pact in favor of closer ties with Russia, angering pro-EU parts of the population.
Yanukovych made several concessions after protests turned deadly at the end of last month, dismissing the government and signing a law agreeing to amnesty for all detainees.
However, he set one condition — that protesters evacuate all public buildings they are occupying, such as Kiev’s city hall next to Independence Square.
On Friday, Ukrainian Attorney General Viktor Pshonka announced that “234 people were arrested between Dec. 26 and Feb. 2. None of them are in custody anymore.”
He added that if the amnesty law’s condition was met, all charges — some carrying sentences of up to 15 years in jail — would be dropped starting from Tuesday.
The opposition has agreed to vacate “part” of Grouchevsky Street, where government and parliament buildings are located, to allow traffic to move freely.
“This does not mean we are vacating the [occupied] premises or lifting the barricades,” opposition representative Andrii Dzyndzia said.
US Department of State deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf urged both sides to continue to de-escalate tensions and find a compromise to the crisis.
“The next step in this process should be the formation of a multiparty technical government, with genuine powersharing and responsibility,” she said.
Harf called on the government to stop all arrests and prosecutions against demonstrators and activists, adding that Washington is “gravely concerned” over increasing intimidation of the media and civil society organizations.