Protesters arrested during months of anti-government unrest in Ukraine were granted amnesty yesterday after the opposition agreed to end their occupation of Kiev City Hall and other public buildings.
The law dropping charges against the protesters came into effect a day after activists vacated the buildings they had occupied in anger over Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject an EU trade deal in favor of closer ties with Russia.
However, nearly three months after the protests began, the opposition remains firmly entrenched in their sprawling tent city on Kiev’s iconic Independence Square, vowing to keep up pressure on the authorities.
Yanukovych conditionally approved the law at the beginning of the month as he sought to pacify protesters following deadly unrest in Kiev that shocked the country.
The announcement that the amnesty had been granted came late on Sunday after the opposition conceded to the condition they move out of the buildings.
“The [amnesty] law comes into force from Feb. 17, 2014, and stipulates that charges against people having committed offences ... will be dropped,” Ukraine prosecutors said in a statement.
The opposition concession prompted strong criticism on Sunday at the latest mass rally on Independence Square.
“It’s a bad decision... We can’t trust the authorities, they’re crooks. The opposition is making a big mistake,” said Volodymyr Penkivski, a 56-year-old protester, who had traveled from northern Ukraine.
“Yanukovych will take other [protesters] hostage. We can’t beat a retreat. Otherwise we will all go to prison,” he added.
Vitali Klitschko, the boxer-turned-opposition-leader, said that the decision to evacuate city hall, though difficult, was the right thing to do.
“When you’re behind bars, you don’t have the same outlook,” he said.
Some of those arrested had been slapped with charges carrying sentences of up to 15 years in jail.
“I am satisfied,” said Ruslan Andriyko, a protester who had managed the day-to-day running of the occupied city hall, which had become the “headquarters of the revolution.”
“Despite a difficult decision, we succeeded in overcoming emotions and ensuring that the law came into force,” Andriyko said.
Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, another opposition leader, were to travel to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday and press her for European financial assistance.
The opposition has also agreed to vacate part of Grushevsky Street, where riots left several dead and hundreds hurt late last month, 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.
Nearby, opportunistic vendors sold calendars and magnets depicting scenes of the months-long unrest.
However, protesters still have a host of unmet demands, including a major reform of the constitution to reduce presidential powers in favor 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.
Ultimately, protesters want Yanukovych himself to leave and a rally was planned for today 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 powersharing to be implemented before early presidential elections are held.