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Ukrainian president suspends Kiev city officials to appease protesters

Move comes day after President Yanukovych said he will propose amnesty for those detained during mass demonstrations

A pro-European integration protester looks out from a barricade on Independence Square in Kiev, on Dec. 14, 2013.

Ukrainian authorities on Saturday conceded to one of the demands of weeks-long protests gripping the capital, opening investigations against four top officials and suspending two of them from office over the violent police response to a small demonstration last month.

Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka said that the deputy head of the national security council, the head of the Kiev city administration, as well as the head of Kiev police and his deputy are being investigated on suspicion of abuse of office in the crackdown on protesters, according to his spokeswoman Margarita Velkova.  Prosecutors will seek to place the suspects under house arrest.

Dozens of protesters, many of them students, were injured after riot police violently dispersed a small rally on Kiev's Independence Square in the early hours of Nov. 30, beating protesters on the heads and limbs, dragging them on the ground, and chasing fleeing activists to beat them more.

Shortly after Pshonka's announcement, President Viktor Yanukovych suspended two of the senior officials under investigation, Kiev city head Oleksandr Popov and deputy head of the national security Council Volodymyr Syvkovych.

He stopped short, however, of fulfilling the protesters' demand that the president fire two of his closed allies:  Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the beleaguered Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko, whom the protesters view as responsible for the crackdown.

It was the latest move in an attempt to quell the continued protests.

On Friday, Yanukovych said that he will propose an amnesty for those detained during recent mass protests against a government decision to reject a free trade agreement with the European Union.

"I will propose at the round-table [talks with the opposition] an amnesty," he said in a statement on Friday. "Those people who were detained will be freed."

Amnesty for detained protesters has been a key demand of the opposition's leaders, who say they will not sit down for talks without such a measure in place.

Also Friday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev urged a quick resolution to the unrest, saying that Ukraine must overcome a "tectonic split" in the country that threatens the existence of the state, Russian news agencies reported.

The Ukrainian capital of Kiev has been gripped by demonstrations drawing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians since late November. They are protesting against Yanukovych's government after he announced that he would not sign a proposed trade pact with the EU, indicating that he would instead steer Ukraine closer to Russia.

Reports suggested that the opposition on Friday had agreed to hold talks, in the wake of the president's decision on the amnesty measure.

Dozens of protesters have been injured and detained at protests as a result of interventions by security forces in and around Kiev’s Independence Square.

On Wednesday, the security forces tore down makeshift barricades but were eventually forced into a retreat amid cheers from the demonstrators after the ranks of protesters swelled.

"I am outraged by the radical actions on both sides ... from the side of provocateurs and from the side of the security forces, which have not always behaved properly," Yanukovych said.

But the opposition, which had earlier ruled out any negotiations until Yanukovych dismissed the government and punished riot police for crushing demonstrations on Nov. 30, has vowed to topple the president.

Even as talks with the government have begun, the opposition says that it is planning a mass demonstration for Sunday.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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