Ukraine’s leader agrees to repeal some anti-protest laws

Ukraine’s embattled President Victor Yanukovich has agreed to repeal some of the harsh anti-protest laws that have helped fuel increasingly violent protests for more than a week. The decision came after talks with opposition leaders late Monday.  A statement on the presidential website said repeal of the laws will be addressed at a special session of parliament that begins on Tuesday.

Earlier Monday Ukrainian protesters on ended their occupation of the Justice Ministry, allowing talks to start between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders.

The talks are seen as crucial to the special session of the nation’s parliament on Tuesday. Ukraine’s beleaguered president has promised to ask the parliament to repeal new authoritarian laws restricting freedom of assembly.

The laws sparked a national wave of protest, plunging Ukraine into its deepest political crisis since it won independence from the Soviet Union 23 years ago.

Martial law?

In recent days, radical protesters occupied the energy, justice and agriculture ministries, prompting some people here to say the president is losing control of the capital. Sunday’s occupation of the Justice Ministry prompted Justice Minister Olena Lukash to threaten Monday to call for a state of emergency.

Widely seen as a form of martial law, this could involve Yanukovych asking the army to repress protesters. It is unclear if army generals would obey orders to act against the spreading protests.

In recent days, protesters took over local government offices in all of western Ukraine. Attempts to take over offices in four eastern Ukrainian cities led to pitched battles between protesters and riot police and civilian gangs. Since Sunday, dozens have been injured and dozens more jailed.On Monday, Ukrainian TV aired videos of these fights, where young men from sports groups joined riot police in clubbing protesters.



James Brooke VOA Moscow Bureau Chief

James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow last summer – the hottest on record. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.