Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk has told parliament the country is on the verge of a "civil war" and urged lawmakers to act with utmost responsibility.
Kravchuk, Ukraine's first post-Soviet president, addressed deputies as they met in a special session on January 29 to debate a possible amnesty for demonstrators detained during two months of antigovernment protests and other unrest.
The session was then adjourned while the opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych's ruling party tried to reach a compromise.
The opposition wants unconditional amnesty for scores of detained protesters. A draft proposed by Yanukovych's Party of Regions says amnesty is possible only if demonstrators clear the streets and vacate government buildings they now occupy, a demand the opposition has so far rejected.
The amnesty debate comes a day after Yanukovych accepted the resignation of the government and parliament overturned antiprotest laws it passed just two weeks ago.
Ukraine's jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has urged demonstrators to press ahead with their demands. The appeal came in a statement read out by Tymoshenko's daughter, Yevhenia, at a news conference in Kyiv on January 28.
"Do not stop going forward," Tymoshenko said. "Rely only on yourselves and on your unity. Get a full and complete victory. If you stop now without a full victory, then all of the sacrifices which were already made by Ukrainians in their selfless fight will be in vain."
The opposition also wants the president's powers curtailed. Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko spoke to protesters on Independence Square.
"We have to return to the constitution [of 2004] and do everything so that power is not in one person's hands," Klitschko, who eventually abandoned his world heavyweight boxing title to pursue his political goals, said. "This is very important. Because none of us wants to be dependent on one person and his state of mind and on which side of the bed this person wakes up."
Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele are in Kyiv to try mediate a solution. Their visits follow criticism of the EU by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said in Brussels on January 28 that EU officials were exacerbating Ukraine's crisis with political interference.
Putin on January 29 ordered the Russian government to wait until a new Ukrainian government is formed to fulfill Moscow's agreement to provide a $15 billion economic rescue package to Kyiv, although he stressed that Russia still intends to honor those loan pledges and gas-discount deals.
The protests in Ukraine began after Yanukovych decided not to sign an agreement on closer ties with the EU, drawing Ukraine instead closer to Russia. The protests have since turned into a mass movement against perceived miusrule and corruption under Yanukovych's government.
U.S. President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union speech on January 28, said the United States supported the right of people in Ukraine to "freely and peacefully" express themselves.
That statement was welcomed via Twitter by Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who said he and allies "press on for a better future for Ukraine."
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview with the French daily "Le Figaro," accused Russia of pressuring Ukraine and urged Ukraine's leaders to assert their independence.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a speech to the German parliament on January 29, hailed the "courageous demonstrations" in Ukraine and said protesters' demands must be heard.
By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, with reporting by AFP.
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