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Ukraine president signs amnesty into law, currency slumps on crisis

(Reuters) – Ukraine’s embattled President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday signed into law an amnesty for demonstrators detained during mass unrest and repealed anti-protest legislation, in a fresh bid to take the heat out of the political crisis.

But the move by Yanukovich, who remains politically active despite going on sick leave on Thursday, was not likely to be enough to end the sometimes violent anti-government protests on the streets of Kiev and beyond.

Many protesters rejected the amnesty outright, because it is conditional on occupied buildings being cleared of activists, and a radical Ukrainian nationalist group behind much of the violence pressed new tough demands on Friday.

The 63-year-old leader, who looks increasingly isolated in a tug-of-war between the West and Ukraine’s former Soviet overlord Russia, suddenly withdrew from view on Thursday, complaining of a high temperature and acute respiratory ailment.

He has been under pressure since November, when his decision to accept a $15 billion loan package from Russia instead of signing a trade deal with Europe infuriated many of his compatriots and sparked huge protests in the capital.

At least six people have been killed and hundreds more injured in street battles between anti-government demonstrators and police, which have escalated sharply after the authorities toughened their response.

The crisis forced Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to resign, and as yet there is no sign of a successor. Serhiy Arbuzov, Azarov’s first deputy and a close family friend of Yanukovich, has stepped in as interim prime minister.

Underlining its economic leverage over Ukraine, Moscow says a new government must be in place before it goes ahead with a planned purchase of $2 billion of Ukrainian government bonds.

That reluctance, and the turmoil more generally, contributed to a 2.5 percent fall in the value of the hryvnia currency against the dollar on Friday to its lowest level for 4-1/2 years.

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