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Ukraine on the brink as President Viktor Yanukovych takes sick leave amid calls for resignation


Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych went on sick leave today after a bruising session of parliament, leaving a political vacuum in a country destabilised by anti-government protests and threatened with bankruptcy.

The 63-year-old President appears increasingly isolated in a crisis born of a tug-of-war between the West and Ukraine’s former Soviet overlord Russia. A former President said the violence between demonstrators and police had brought the country to the brink of civil war.

Shortly after his office announced he had developed a high temperature and acute respiratory ailment, Mr Yanukovych defended his record in handling the crisis and accused the opposition, which is demanding his resignation, of provoking the unrest.

How the protesters have battled with police


“We have fulfilled all the obligations which the authorities took on themselves,” a presidential statement said, referring to a bill passed on Wednesday granting a conditional amnesty for activists who had been detained.

“However, the opposition continues to whip up the situation, calling on people to stand in the cold for the sake of the political ambitions of a few leaders.” The amnesty offered freedom from prosecution to peaceful protesters, but only on condition that activists left official buildings – something they have rejected.

Several members of Mr Yanukovych’s own party voted against the bill, even after he visited parliament himself to rally support, and some of his industrialist backers are showing signs of impatience with the two-month-old crisis.

Some opposition figures said they suspected Mr Yanukovych might be giving himself a breathing space after being forced into concessions. “This smacks of a ‘diplomatic illness’,” Rostislav Pavlenko, a member of Vitali Klitschko’s Udar (Punch) party, told Reuters. “It allows Yanukovych not to sign laws, not to meet the opposition, to absent himself from decisions to solve the political crisis.”