Protesters 'ready' to vacate Kiev's occupied city hall: lawmaker

15th February 2014, Comments 0 comments

Protesters occupying Kiev's city hall as part of anti-government unrest rocking Ukraine are ready to vacate the building, an opposition lawmaker said Saturday, after authorities announced they had freed all those detained in demonstrations.

The evacuation of the building, which has been occupied for more than two months in a bid to oust President Viktor Yanukovych, is one of the conditions set by authorities in order for charges to be dropped against the freed activists.

The nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party that controls the city hall "is ready" to evacuate "in a few minutes, at most half-an-hour", Yuriy Syrotyuk, the number two of the party, told AFP in what appeared to be a concession from the opposition.

He said the decision to vacate the building was unanimously approved at a meeting Friday of the protest movement's council -- which consists of politicians and activists -- but that some activists had later changed their minds.

Protests on Kiev's central Independence Square have been going on since November, when Yanukovych ditched an EU pact in favour of closer ties with Soviet-era master Russia, angering pro-EU parts of the population.

In a bid to appease protesters following deadly riots at the end of January, Yanukovych signed an amnesty law in which he pledged to release all those detained in return for demonstrators evacuating key public buildings they are occupying.

On Friday, the authorities announced they had freed all 234 detained members of the protest movement, adding that charges against them would also be dropped within a month starting from Tuesday if the conditions of the amnesty were met.

Some of them have been charged with fomenting mass unrest, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years in jail.

The move -- welcome by the United States -- appeared to be a concession from the government in a bid to ease tensions, and Yanukovych himself appealed to the opposition to yield some ground too.

"We want this decision (to evacuate) to be approved by all opposition forces. There must be a unanimous decision," Syrotyuk said.

The city hall, which is on the main Khreshchatyk avenue in central Kiev, was stormed by protesters on December 1 as part of a major protest following a brutal crackdown on demonstrators the previous night.

It is run with military precision, and houses hundreds of protesters who sleep there to get out of the cold and gather for meetings, English lessons and other activities.

Another mass opposition demonstration is planned for Sunday at 1000 GMT.

© 2014 AFP

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