Ukraine prime minister submits resignation before talks

Parliament also scraps anti-protest laws, in moves the opposition calls a 'step to victory'

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Ukraine's prime minister has resigned and the country's parliament has scrapped draconian anti-protest laws, moves aimed at ending a two-month standoff with demonstrators.

The decision on the protests laws was made in a special parliamentary session in Kiev on Tuesday, shortly before the prime minister, Mykola Azarov, offered to stand down in a bid to ease tensions between protesters and the government.

Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich accepted Azarov's resignation. Opposition leaders, who have called for the removal of the president, described the moves as "a step to victory.”

Al Jazeera's Nick Spicer, reporting from Kiev, said the prime minister was regarded as responsible for much of the violence during the crackdown on protesters.

"The prime minister was despised by the people on the streets. He was seen as responsible for the crackdowns," he said. "The opposition said this was a small step. A big step would be the resignation of the president."

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said the prime minister's resignation and an end to anti-protest laws, which are intended to placate the unrest in Kiev, "a small step to victory."
Dmitry Korotaev/Kommersant Photo/Getty Images

The anti-protest laws, which restricted movement and assembly, and threatened tough jail terms for transgressors, had been passed earlier this month as demonstrations against Yanukovich continued unabated for two months.

Originally the protests were over the government's failure to sign a European Union trade deal, but the anti-protest laws added another level to the demonstrations.

The laws punished the occupation of public buildings with up to five years in prison, outlawed protest convoys of more than five cars and banned opposition activists from wearing masks or helmets.

After the special parliamentary session, Yanukovich called U.S. vice-president Joe Biden. According to a White House readout of the call, Biden welcomed the parliamentary repeal of the anti-protest laws and urged the Ukrainian president to sign it.

He also encouraged Yanukovich and the opposition to continue working together to pass an amnesty law for jailed protesters and to continue working toward a new government acceptable to all parties. 

Yanukovich hopes the repeal of the laws, and Azarov's resignation, will put an end to the escalating violence that saw the protests turn deadly last week. 

Azarov said he was offering to step down "with the aim of creating extra means for finding a social-political compromise, for the sake of a peaceful settlement of the conflict."

But Azarov had also been publicly humiliated by Yanukovich's offer over the weekend to give his job to former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, one of the opposition's leaders, in an effort to stem the rising protests against his rule. Yatsenyuk turned the offer down.

Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko said Azarov's announcement was only "a step to victory".

"For several months we have been saying that what is happening in the streets is also the result of the policies of the current government. This is not victory but a step to victory," said Klitschko, leader of the UDAR (Punch) party.

The president stopped short of proposing amnesty for dozens of arrested protesters until demonstrators stopped occupying buildings and ended their protests, a major sticking point for Tuesday's talks.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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