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Yanukovych to scrap protest laws

B eleaguered Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych says he has agreed to scrap harsh anti-protest legislation that sparked violent clashes.

The statement on his website came after he met top opposition figures.

The statement also said one of the opposition leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has rejected Mr Yanukovych's offer to become prime minister.

Earlier p rotesters left Ukraine's justice ministry after their storming of the building led the minister to threaten a state of emergency - but they continued to picket outside as they pressed for the president's resignation and other concessions.

The protesters still occupy three sizable buildings in Kiev city centre, including the city hall.

Justice minister Elena Lukash said she would ask the national security council to impose a state of emergency if the protesters did not quit the building, but she did not specify a deadline for leaving and it was not clear if the move outside would satisfy her.

Imposing a state of emergency would have been likely to cause more anger among protesters, who have clashed with police repeatedly over the past week, while three have died.

The protests began in late November when Mr Yanukovych shelved a long-awaited agreement to deepen ties with the European Union and sought more support from Russia. The demonstrations grew in size and intensity after police violently dispersed two gatherings, and demonstrators then set up a large tent camp in Kiev's main square.

Anger boiled over into clashes on January 19, days after Mr Yanukovych pushed through harsh new anti-protest laws. Protests also spread into other parts of the country, including some cities in the Russian-speaking east, the base of Mr Yanukovych's support.

AP

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