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Ukrainian opposition to unblock streets in response to release of their supporters

February 15, 2014, 9:56 UTC+3 KIEV

“We start vacating the city hall’s building,” Sergei Sobolev, an MP from the opposition Batkivshchina party’s faction, said

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Sergei Sobolev

Sergei Sobolev

© ITAR-TASS/Vladimir Sindeev

KIEV, February 15, 9:35 /ITAR-TASS/. The Ukrainian opposition is ready to vacate the seized building of the Kiev city state administration and unblock downtown Grushevskogo Street in response to the release from custody of all participants of anti-government protests, an opposition lawmaker said.

“We start vacating the city hall’s building,” Sergei Sobolev, an MP from the opposition Batkivshchina party’s faction, said on Ukraine’s Channel 5 on Friday.

Ukraine has been hit by anti-government protests since the authorities refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union at a summit in Vilnius in November 2013 and opted for closer ties with Russia instead. The protests have often turned into riots. Protesters demanded the resignation of the government and president after a rally was dispersed in downtown Kiev’s Independence Square (Maidan) on November 30.

Sobolev said Friday the opposition had started implementing the provisions of the parliament-adopted law on amnesty for protesters, which pledged to release riot participants on condition seized administrative buildings were vacated.

“We have in particular begun fulfilling the demand to restore traffic on Grushevskogo Street, and we are also preparing the city administration building for handover,” he said.

The Ukrainian authorities adopted tougher laws for public order violations in mid-January, which triggered another wave of protests, with three protesters believed to have been killed, and up to 200 policemen injured. The laws were later repealed.

Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov resigned on January 28, and the Ukrainian leadership also decided to pardon participants of riots on condition protesters vacate state and local power institutions they seized within 15 days. The initial reaction of opposition leaders to the amnesty law that entered into force February 2 was defiant and skeptical.

Sobolev confirmed reports that opposition supporters who had taken part in protests across the country had been released from custody. “According to our data, some 2,500 activists have been released and are either under house arrest or on parliamentarians’ bail,” he said.

On Friday, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka said prosecutors and courts would be able to start the process to release from criminal prosecution all people suspected of committing crimes during protest rallies should all provisions of the amnesty law be implemented.

“If all law provisions are fulfilled, which means vacating blocked premises and transport communications, then prosecutors and courts will be entitled to start the procedure of releasing suspects from criminal responsibility starting from February 18,” Pshonka said.

“All criminal proceedings will be closed in a month’s time. That is, by March 18,” he said.

The amnesty law, designed in particular to “prevent prosecution and punishment of people in connection with events that took place during peaceful rallies,” envisions a pardon for all people who took part in riots during mass anti-government demonstrations in Ukraine except for those who committed grave crimes.

It introduces a mechanism to release riot participants from criminal prosecution and ensure unhindered operation of state and local power bodies. Protesters must vacate seized state and local power institutions, unblock Grushevskogo Street in downtown Kiev and other streets and squares across the country except those where peaceful protest rallies are being held.

Pshonka also said some 267 people had received notifications that they were suspected of committing crimes during street clashes and administrative buildings' seizure in the period from December 26, 2013 to February 2, 2014.

“A total of 234 people were detained, but none of them is jailed today,” the prosecutor general said. “This unprecedented step has the only aim - to settle the conflict and ensure public order.”

Taras Kosivsky, a spokesman for the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party, said protesters in Independence Square would decide whether to unblock administrative buildings seized by them in the Ukrainian capital and other regions at a popular assembly on Sunday.

Protesters are blocking six administration buildings: the Ivano-Frankovsk, Lvov and Ternopol regional state administrations, the Kiev city state administration, the Lvov Region’s Sokal District state administration and the session hall of the Poltava Region’s council. The deadline for protesters to unblock administrative buildings and transport routes expires February 17.

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