Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has signed an amnesty law for protesters detained during weeks of anti-government unrest, amid calls for him to take a tougher stance against the opposition movement or risk losing power.
Mr Yanukovych’s latest concession was quickly rejected by protesters, due to its conditions, which said they must leave municipal buildings occupied across the country, and clear the Maidan, the sprawling protest camp which has paralysed Kiev city centre.
The President, who officially went on sick leave on Thursday with an acute respiratory condition, has become increasingly isolated as the country’s political crisis shows no sign of abating. More than six people are now reported to have died and hundreds injured in clashes between protesters and police.
The protests began peacefully in November when Kiev shunned closer ties with the EU in favour of a £9 billion bailout deal with Russia to balance its dire finances. Demonstrations took a more radical turn this month, when authorities passed a harsh anti-protest law clamping down on basic rights of assembly and movement aimed at curbing dissent.
The laws have since been repealed as part of a concessions package offered by Mr Yanukovych, which has also seen the Prime Minister and his cabinet resign. However, opposition leaders have called for further negotiations, as they continue to push for early elections.
In pictures: Clashes between police and demonstrators in Kiev, Ukraine
In pictures: Clashes between police and demonstrators in Kiev, Ukraine
Anti-government protesters clash with police on Hrushevskoho Street in Ukraine's capital city on Friday night
Anti-government protesters attempt to take over the Ukrainian House on Sunday night
Protesters and police officers clash during the night of Friday to Saturday. After two months of primarily peaceful anti-government protests in the city center, new laws meant to end the protest movement have sparked violent clashes in recent days
Anti-government protesters clash with policemen in Kiev on Friday night as the protests continue in Ukraine
Anti-government protesters gather around a fire to get warm at a road block in Kiev on 26 January
An anti-government protester prepares to throw a Molotov cocktail during the clashes between protesters and policemen on 24 January
Anti-government protesters hurl Molotov cocktails and burn tires during clashes with police on Hrushevskoho Street near Dynamo stadium on January 24
Protesters confront police in central Kiev on Friday night
Anti-government protesters launches a firework towards police near the Dynamo Stadium in Kiev
Rob Stothard/Getty Images
A protester waves a Ukrainian flag during clashes with police in central Kiev
A protester throws a tire onto a fire in Kiev
Opposition leader and former WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko addresses protesters near the burning barricades between police and protesters in central Kiev
A protester breaks up a mannequin on the roof of the burned truck during clashes with police in central Kiev
A protester throws tires onto a fire during a clash with police in central Kiev
Thick black smoke from burning tires engulfed parts of downtown Kiev as an ultimatum issued by the opposition to the president to call early election or face street rage was set to expire with no sign of a compromise
Protesters use a large slingshot to hurl a Molotov cocktail at police in central Kiev
Burning members of the Ukrainian riot police due to the gasoline bombs hurled by anti-government protestors during the clashes in central Kiev
A demonstrator holds an incendiary device as protesters clash with police in the center of Kiev
Protesters burn tires as they clash with riot police during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
Protesters clash with police in central Kiev. Police in Ukraine's capital tore down protester barricades and chased demonstrators away from the site of violent clashes, hours after two protesters died after being shot
A riot police officer escorts a man as a woman with a cross reacts nearby during clashes between police and pro-European protesters in Kiev
Riot policemen arrest a protestor during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
An injured man is escorted during clashes between police and pro-European protesters in Kiev
Medical workers help an injured man during anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
Medical personnel transport a man who was injured during clashes with riot police in Kiev
A man reacts after he was injured during a rally held by pro-European protesters in Kiev
An Orthodox priest tries to stop clash protesters the police in the center of Kiev
Ukrainian priests stand between protesters and riot police officers during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
An elderly woman walks from police officers as they block a street during unrest in central Kiev
An Ukrainian opposition activist speak to riot-forces standing guard in front of the parliament in Kiev
A protester smokes at the barricade in front of armour-clad security forces blocking access to the Verkhovna Rada parliament in Kiev
Pro-European protester take cover during clashes with riot police in Kiev. Two demonstrators were reported killed in new anti-government unrest in the Ukrainian capital, inflaming protesters who confronted police shouting 'Murderers' and 'Glory to Ukraine!'
Pro-European protesters launch a pyrotechnic pistol towards riot police during clashes in Kiev
A police officer throws a Molotov cocktail during clashes with protesters in central Kiev
A pro-European protester lies on the ground during clashes with riot police in Kiev
Demonstrators beat on a burnt vehicle as pro-European integration protesters hold a rally in Kiev
People stand on a barricade during a clashing break of the opposition and the police in Kiev
Protesters tip over a burnt out police bus during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
A pro-European protester fires a pneumatic gun during clashes with Ukrainian riot police in Kiev
Protesters wearing headbands reading 'Help' shout slogans during an action entitled 'Impose sanctions - stop the violence' in front of the European Union delegation in Ukraine in Kiev. Participants of the rally urged the European Union to immediately impose personal sanctions for those responsible for the use of force against peaceful protesters and journalists, as well as involved in the adoption of unconstitutional laws in Ukraine that violate fundamental human rights
A pro-European integration protester catches fire during clashes with police in Kiev
A pro-European integration protester sits in a burnt police bus after a rally near government administration buildings in Kiev
A pro-European integration protester uses a slingshot during clashes with police in Kiev
A bare chested man waves a Ukrainian flag during clashes between the opposition and police in the centre of Kiev. Opposition protesters were today locked in a tense standoff with Ukrainian police in Kiev after bloody clashes that wounded over 200 people, as President Viktor Yanukovych called emergency talks to resolve the crisis
A protester sprays fire in the direction of the riot police during clashes in the centre of Kiev. EU foreign ministers deplored violent protests in Kiev, saying the government was at fault for passing a package of repressive laws in an effort to tame pro-EU demonstrations
Pro-European integration protesters carry Molotov cocktails during clashes with police in Kiev. Protesters clashed with riot police in the Ukrainian capital after tough anti-protest legislation, which the political opposition says paves the way for a police state and was rushed through parliament
A protester prays as he holds an open Bible during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
Protesters clad in improvised protective gear prepare for a clash with police in central Kiev
Pro-European protesters bang on a metal bin during a rally in Kiev
A clergyman opposes riot police in Kiev during a rally held by pro-European integration demonstrators. Protesters gathered in Independence Square as repressive new laws came into force
Pro-European Union activists sing the national anthem in central Kiev
In comments published on Thursday, an advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin said Mr Yanukovych has been left with “no choice” but to suppress what he called an “insurgency”.
“Either he protects Ukrainian statehood and suppresses the insurgency… or he risks losing power, and then Ukraine faces growing chaos and internal conflict from which no exit is visible,” said Sergei Glaziev in an interview with a magazine for the Russian state gas company, Gazprom.
In a sign of Russia’s economic leverage over Ukraine, Moscow has said it will hold off on buying £1.2 billion of government bonds until a new government is formed.
Mr Glaziev’s comments came as Ukraine’s army also called on the president to take “urgent steps” to ease the crisis.
However, authorities came under further intense scrutiny for use of force, after a prominent opposition activist who disappeared for eight days reappeared claiming he had been kidnapped, tortured and left to die in the suburbs of the capital Kiev.
There have been dozens of cases of police brutality during the unrest, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
Dmytro Bulatov, leader of the AutoMaidan protest movement which organised motorcades outside the houses of politicians and oligarchs, was found locked in a house in the suburb of Boryspil on Thursday, according to local TV station Channel 5.
Wearing blood-stained clothes and exhibiting cuts and bruises, the 35-year-old activist gave a brief interview to media before being admitted to a Kiev clinic for medical treatment.
“My whole body is a mess. You can see everything. I am alive. Thank God for this,” he told reporters.
Mr Bulatov disappeared on 22 January when the AutoMaidan motorcade he was travelling with was ambushed. Activists at the anti-government protest said they were beaten by police and hired thugs. Mr Bulatov said those who held him had Russian accents, but does not know who they were.
The European Union’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, said she was “appalled by the obvious signs of prolonged torture and cruel treatment” of Mr Bulatov, and said it was up to the authorities to ensure that security services acted with restraint.
“All such acts are unacceptable and must immediately be stopped,” said Ms Ashton, who was in Kiev earlier this week as part of EU efforts to diffuse the crisis.
Police in Ukraine said they had opened an investigation and posted guards at the hospital where he is being treated.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was due to meet opposition leaders - including world champion boxer-turned-politican Vitaly Klitschko - on the sidelines of security conference in Munich yesterday. “Our message to Ukraine’s opposition will be the full support of President Obama and of the American people,” Mr Kerry said before the meetings.
“But we will also say to them that if you get that reform agenda... we would urge them to engage in that because further standoff, or further violence that becomes uncontrollable, is not in anybody’s interests.”