Military asks Yanukovych to take "urgent steps" to resolve crisis

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych has signed into law repeal of anti-protest laws and a controversial amnesty for protesters.

Mr. Yanukovych, who is in hospital with a respiratory ailment, signed the bills on Friday as part of his concessions to the opposition.

The opposition supported the bill scrapping harsh anti-protest laws which had triggered violent clashes with police last week, but rejected the amnesty bill because it was conditional on protesters vacating government offices they seized in the capital Kiev and other cities.

Protesters refused to clear the buildings and vowed to continue their vigil till Mr. Yanukovych agrees to curbs to his sweeping powers and calls snap elections.

Tensions may flare again after a Ukrainian activist, who went missing a week ago, said he had been kidnapped and tortured. Appearing on television on Friday, his face swollen and caked in blood, Dmytro Bulatov, a 35-year-old protester, said his unknown captors had cut off his ear and driven nails through his hands before dumping him in a forest.

An activist was earlier found dead in a forest while one more survived a severe beating and was hospitalised.

As talks with the government reached a stalemate, Ukraine’s military urged the President, who is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, to take “urgent steps” to resolve the political crisis.

In a statement posted on its website the Ministry of Defence blasted as “unacceptable” the seizure of government offices, and warned that “further escalation of the confrontation threatens the country’s territorial integrity.” The statement does not necessarily mean that Ukraine’s army is ready to intervene in the two-month-long crisis. Earlier this week, Defence Minister Pavlo Lebedev ruled out any military role in the standoff between the government and the opposition and denounced as “provocation” calls on the army to intervene.

Meanwhile, the United States is stepping up pressure on Mr. Yanukovych to meet the opposition demands.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Germany on Friday for a security conference in Munich, was quoted as saying that the concessions Mr. Yanukovych had offered were not enough to resolve Ukraine’s crisis.

On Thursday Mr. Kerry talked to Ukrainian opposition leaders on the phone and will meet them in person on the sidelines of the Munich conference this weekend.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who accompanies Mr. Kerry to Europe, will visit Ukraine next week to push the government towards compromise with the opposition.

An unnamed State Department official told reporters on Thursday the U.S. hopes “a government of national unity” can be formed in Ukraine.

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