KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — President Viktor Yanukovych promised Friday to reshuffle his government, free scores of protesters from jail and make other concessions after demonstrations against him spread from Ukraine’s besieged capital to nearly half of the country.
At a meeting with religious leaders, Yanukovych vowed that a special parliament meeting next Tuesday will push through changes to his Cabinet, grant amnesty to dozens of jailed activists who are not guilty of serious crimes and will change harsh anti-protest legislation.
The protest law enacted last week appeared to have backfired on Yanukovych, sparking confrontations in which demonstrators threw stones and firebombs at police. The violence was a harsh contrast to the determined peacefulness of the anti-government protests that have gripped the country for two months.
At least two demonstrators were killed this week in clashes with police, and protesters have seized government offices in cities in western Ukraine, where support for Yanukovych is thin.
Protests began in late November after Yanukovych decided to shelve a long-anticipated economic agreement with the 28-nation European Union and receive a bailout from Russia instead. Russian President Vladimir Putin had pressed hard to keep Ukraine in his nation’s political and economic orbit while many urban Ukrainians had favored closer ties with the EU.
Yanukovych’s comments came as a shaky truce held in the center of Kiev, where thousands of protesters behind giant makeshift barricades kept confronting lines of riot police. Fighting eased Thursday morning, as opposition leaders entered into face-to-face talks with Yanukovych.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters occupied or besieged the offices of regional governors appointed by Yanukovych in western Ukraine, where most people long for closer ties with the EU. At least two governors were forced to sign resignation letters and another one was chased out of his office by an angry crowd.
Anger spread further in Ukraine after the release of a video where riot police were shown humiliating and abusing a protester who was stripped naked. The Interior Ministry has apologized for the actions of those police.
A parliament deputy from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions quit the party Friday in the wake of the continued clashes, but presidential allies still control a majority of parliament.
Protesters want Yanukovych to resign and a new election to be held.