A day of uncertainty in Ukraine ended in confusion after the country’s parliament passed a law that grants amnesty to protesters but carries a number of conditions.
Under the law, protesters will be given amnesty from prosecution, but only if they vacate government offices in Kiev and across the country within 15 days. More than a dozen regional and departmental government buildings have been occupied by protesters who have called for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych.
However, the law did not include Kiev’s Independence Square, the trade union building or Kiev’s conference centre, called Ukraine House, which have been the centre of much of the demonstrations.
All three opposition parties abstained from voting and shouted “shame” as members of Mr. Yanukovych’s party, the Party of Regions, voted in favour.
There were indications Mr. Yanukovych had trouble keeping his MPs in line. The group, which has the most seats in parliament but rules in a coalition with the communists, met privately for several hours and Mr. Yanukovych came twice to the meeting to win them over.
“The amnesty is tied to the positive dynamics of freeing the administrative buildings,” the bill’s author Yuriy Miroshnychenko told local media in Kiev.
One opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko, told the crowd at Independence Square that Mr. Yanukovych’s party is showing division, and the fact that he had to attend the party’s meeting twice “was a big sign.”
“Their attitude is changing, they can’t ignore us,” he said adding that the government MPs are growing fearful.
Oleg Tyagnibok, leader of Svoboda, said the opposition would continue its campaign to change the country’s constitution in order to diminish the powers of the president. “There should be no conditions,” he told the crowd, saying the government had effectively taken people hostage by arresting activists for protesting and then bargaining for their release with the amnesty bill. “We couldn’t vote for this. … This is not a tragedy but we didn’t get [what we want].”
Members of parliament spent most of the day behind closed doors, trying to thrash out a deal. They emerged only occasionally to have the emergency session continued. At one point in the afternoon, the speaker of the chamber moved to cancel the day’s session only to be shouted down by MPs who wanted to keep negotiating into the night. Finally at around 11 p.m., members filed in, voted and left in a matter of minutes.
Reaction in Independence Square was muted as protesters tried to sort through the implication of the bill. However, many were clearly disappointed. Parliament won’t resume until Feb. 4, creating more uncertainty as to what happens next.