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Protesters vacate Kiev’s City Hall in exchange for amnesty

Antigovernment protesters carried makeshift shields and covered their faces as they left City Hall in Kiev on Sunday.

Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Antigovernment protesters carried makeshift shields and covered their faces as they left City Hall in Kiev on Sunday.

KIEV — Ending their occupation of City Hall, Ukrainian protesters withdrew from the large granite building Sunday but then quickly threatened to take it back if the authorities did not immediately fulfill a pledge to drop all criminal charges against political activists.

The departure from the building in the capital after more than two months eased tensions — temporarily, at least — in the standoff between protesters and President Viktor Yanukovych, who set off the country’s tumultuous political crisis in November by spurning a trade deal with the European Union and tilting Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, toward Russia instead.

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In a statement from Brussels, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, welcomed the evacuation of City Hall as evidence that, after weeks of demands and counterdemands by each side, “several important steps have been undertaken during the last few days to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine, thus contributing to a Ukrainian way from the current political crisis.”

At the same time, however, tens of thousands of people poured into Independence Square in Kiev on Sunday to join a boisterous but peaceful antigovernment rally that featured speeches denouncing Yanukovych’s “bandit regime” and calling for his swift resignation.

How far both sides were willing to go toward a more enduring truce or even a settlement might become clearer Tuesday, when Parliament reconvenes and Yanukovych might present a new candidate for prime minister to fill a post vacant since the last prime minister resigned, in January.

Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader who last month rejected an offer from Yanukovych to take the post, said at the rally Sunday that the roughly 2,000 criminal cases against protesters must be closed.

Yatsenyuk also repeated to the demonstrators that he would not accept the offer to become prime minister in a coalition government, the Associated Press reported.

In an interview posted on the website of the Ukrainian weekly Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and opposition leader jailed after Yanukovych defeated her in the 2010 election, said that she was willing to take part in negotiations to end the crisis but added that “the only topic” up for discussion was the manner of the president’s resignation, including “guarantees for the protection of his family.”

Most barricades erected around Independence Square to fend off a possible attack by the riot police remained in place Sunday, guarded by masked young men carrying homemade shields and wooden clubs. Located inside an area of central Kiev blocked off by barriers, City Hall, although no longer crammed with protesters, remained beyond the reach of the authorities.

But in a sign that neither side wants to return to the violent clashes that killed at least three protesters last month, the police pulled back from barricades on Hrushevsky Street, and protesters cleared a narrow passageway for vehicles to pass through tangled mounds of garbage, tires, sandbags, and ice.

A line of masked men in helmets, however, blocked all traffic and pedestrians.

The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office, in a statement posted on its website Sunday evening, lifted an important obstacle in the way of a settlement. It said it was “closing relevant criminal proceedings” and lifting any future liability against protesters covered by a conditional amnesty law passed by Parliament on Jan. 29.

The law specified that an amnesty for those involved in sometimes violent protests would go into effect only if protesters unblocked Hrushevsky Street and met a number of other conditions. The prosecutor’s statement implicitly certified that these conditions had been met, a move that should help ease tensions.

Many of the protesters who left City Hall on Sunday said they disagreed with the decision to vacate the building.

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