Ukraine protests: President Yanukovych returns from sick leave following 20,000 strong demonstration - Europe - World - The Independent

Ukraine protests: President Yanukovych returns from sick leave following 20,000 strong demonstration

President Yanukovych announced he would be taking sick leave on Thursday, sparking speculation he was preparing to step down.

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych will return to work on Monday after sick leave, as protesters continued to call for his resignation on Sunday.

His absence since Thursday has been interpreted by some as a preparation to step out of office, while others see it as a prelude to a further crackdown on the widespread anti-government protests.

However, his office maintains that he was suffering from a fever and breathing problems.

His illness was announced the morning after the parliament voted to offer amnesty to protesters on the condition that demonstrators vacate occupied government buildings in Kiev and elsewhere in the country.

The measure was greeted with disdain by protesters, who viewed the move as the government creating a hostage situation, using protesters as a means to negotiating concessions. 

Ukraine protests: US steps up search for agreement at Munich Security Conference  

Protests continued despite his leave. Around 20,000 people had assembled at the main protest site in the capital Kiev’s Independence Square on Sunday, one of the largest gatherings to be held in almost three months of unrest.

Opposition leaders urged supporters at the rally to push forward with demands, with Arseniy Yatsenyuk emphasising the importance of the government releasing all of the people arrested during the protests.

“We must free all,” he said, adding that there were 116 people being held. “Freedom to every hero.”

Vitali Klitschko showed that opposition hopes for co-operation from abroad were high.

“The crisis will end at last when under the auspices of the international community we will hold new elections that will stop the regime of Yanukovych,” he said.

“Repression works in reverse. More people are coming to Maidan,” said demonstrator Tamara Tribko, using the abbreviated name of the square where an extensive tent camp has been established since early December.

Ukraine protests: Amnesty given as President Viktor Yanukovych faces pressure from Moscow  

Meanwhile authorities granted permission to a prominent opposition activist to leave Ukraine for treatment of injuries he sustained after allegedly being kidnapped and tortured.

Dmytro Bulatov went missing on 22 January and resurfaced a week later, heavily bruised and with part of an ear missing. The incident, along with the beatings of other activists, one of whom died, raised fears that government supporters are using brutal hirelings to intimidate the opposition.

Police had sought Mr Bulatov for questioning on suspicion of organising mass disorder, but prosecutors said he was free to go on Sunday.

The Baltic News Service said Mr Bulatov arrived in Vilnius, Lithuania's capital, shortly after midnight local time and was immediately rushed to a hospital.

The protests began in late November after Mr Yanukovych backed away from a long-awaited agreement to deepen ties with the European Union, and soon encompassed a wider range of grievances after police violently dispersed some early gatherings.

On Tuesday the Ukrainian Parliament is expected to consider reforms to the constitution that would reduce some presidential powers and allot them to the Prime Minister. Mr Yanukovych last week accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, but has not appointed a new one.

Additional reporting by PA

See incredible photos of clashes between protesters and the police in January below

 

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