Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned on Tuesday while deputies loyal to President Viktor Yanukovich, acting to calm violent street protests, back-tracked and overturned anti-protest laws they rammed through parliament 12 days ago.
According to AFP, the first concrete concessions by Yanukovich since the crisis erupted two months ago brought cries of 'Hurrah!' from several thousand demonstrators on Kiev's Independence Square, focal point of the protests.
But opposition leaders said they would continue to harness street power to wring even more gains from Yanukovich.
"We have to change not only the government, but the rules of the game as well," declared boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko. "We are sure the struggle will continue," he said.
The 66-year-old Azarov tendered his resignation as parliament met for an emergency session to work out a deal that would satisfy the opposition and end street protests in the capital Kiev and in other cities in which six people have been killed.
Yanukovich quickly accepted his resignation and that of his cabinet. Azarov's spokesman said first deputy prime minister, Serhiy Arbuzov, a former central bank chief, would step in as acting prime minister while other ministers would stay on in an acting role until a new cabinet had been formed.
Azarov, a loyal lieutenant of Yanukovich since the latter was elected to power in February 2010, said he was stepping down "with the aim of creating extra means for finding a social-political compromise, for the sake of a peaceful settlement of the conflict."
Azarov described the current crisis in Ukraine as a threat to the economic and social development of the country, as well as a threat to each and every Ukrainian citizen, according to RT.
“During the standoff, the government has done everything for a peaceful solution of the conflict,” Azarov said. “We’ve been doing everything not to let bloodshed occur, to prevent the violence escalating, not to have human rights infringed upon. The government has made sure the economy and social security have functioned in extreme conditions.”
The opposition has been calling consistently for the resignation of the Azarov government since the crisis started.
The steward of the heavily-indebted economy through hard times and recession, Azarov backed the decision in November to walk away from a free trade agreement with the European Union - the move which sparked the mass street protests.
And it was Azarov who took the heat in parliament, defending the need for closer economic ties with Russia in a stormy debate with the opposition.
Azarov said he can “honestly look into the eyes of each of his compatriots” and that he has always acted in the best interests of the country.
Parliament went into emergency session on Tuesday with ministers loyal to Yanukovich saying they would press for a state of emergency to be declared if the opposition leaders did not rein in protesters and end occupation of municipal and government buildings across the country.
But then Yanukovich loyalists - clearly under pressure from the president and his aides to make a U-turn - voted to repeal anti-protest legislation they had rammed through on January 16.
It was these laws - banning virtually all form of public protest - which sparked a violent turn on the street leading to open clashes between radical activists and police in which six people were killed.
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