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Ukraine prime minister quits, antiprotest laws repealed

Antigovernment protests continued Tuesday in Kiev’s Independence Square despite regime moves to quell growing unrest.

Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Antigovernment protests continued Tuesday in Kiev’s Independence Square despite regime moves to quell growing unrest.

KIEV — In back-to-back moves aimed at defusing Ukraine’s political crisis, the prime minister resigned Tuesday and Parliament repealed antiprotest laws that had set off violent clashes between protesters and police.

The two developments were significant concessions to the antigovernment protesters who have fought sporadically with police for the last 10 days after two months of peaceful around-the-clock demonstrations.

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The protests erupted after President Viktor Yanukovych turned toward Russia for a bailout loan instead of signing a deal with the European Union and have since morphed into a general plea for more human rights, less corruption, and more democracy in this nation of 45 million.

The departure of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov removes one of the officials most disliked by the opposition forces whose protests have turned parts of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, into a barricaded maze.

Azarov’s spokesman, however, told the Interfax news agency that another staunch Yanukovych ally, deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov, will assume temporary leadership of the Cabinet, a move that is unlikely to please the opposition.

Other key issues remain unresolved in Ukraine’s political crisis, including the opposition’s repeated demand that Yanukovych resign and a new election be held.

Azarov’s resignation came just before the opening of a special Parliament session that repealed antiprotest laws that had set off violent clashes between protesters and police.

Earlier this month, Yanukovych pushed through the new laws to crack down on protests and increase prison sentences for creating disorder. The laws also prohibited demonstrators from wearing helmets and gas masks as many have done for fear that riot police would try to violently disperse protests.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a lawmaker and one of the opposition’s top figures, hailed the Parliament’s move.

‘‘We have repealed all the laws against which the whole country rose up,’’ he said.

Over the weekend, Yanukovych offered the premiership to Yatsenyuk, but the opposition leader refused the post.

Parliament will consider an amnesty measure Wednesday for scores of arrested protesters. But Yanukovych has said the amnesty is only possible if demonstrators clear the streets and vacate the buildings they occupy — a condition that is probably unacceptable to many.

The prime minister’s departure brought encouragement to those at Kiev’s protest encampment but no inclination to end their demonstrations.

‘‘The authorities are afraid and making concessions. We should use this moment and continue our fight to achieve a change of power in Ukraine,’’ said 23-year-old demonstrator Oleg Rudakov.

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