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Ukraine opposition asks for Merkel help as Russia pledges more aid

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Ukraine's pro-EU opposition on Monday asked Angela Merkel for sanctions against embattled President Viktor Yanukovych and financial support during talks in Berlin, as Russia pledged a new $2 billion tranche of aid.

"I believe that the EU and Germany in particular hold levers and mechanisms for imposing sanctions," Vitali Klitschko, a former champion boxer turned opposition chief, told Merkel.

During the meeting -- that also included another opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk -- Klitschko called for EU bank accounts connected to Yanukovych, his entourage and "oligarchs who support the regime" to be frozen, a statement posted on his party's website said.

He also said that Ukraine needed "financial assistance to overcome the crisis" in a plea for EU support to the German leader, according to the statement.

Merkel stressed that Germany and the EU would do everything to contribute towards a "positive outcome" to the country's worst post-Soviet crisis, spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement, without giving anymore details.

"Now the point is to energetically push ahead with progress on forming a government and reform of the constitution," Seibert added.

Meanwhile, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov pledged that Moscow would "this week" release the next slice of a $15 billion package to Ukraine that it had seemingly frozen when protests escalated last month.

So far only $3 billion of the bailout has been transferred to Ukraine's economy, which is struggling to recover from a recession and is being badly hit by capital flight and currency devaluation during its prolonged crisis.

Protesters have been camped out in central Kiev for nearly three months, demanding Yanukovych leave power.

Sparked initially by Yanukovych's decision to spurn closer ties with the EU in favour of Russia, the protests have snowballed into a titanic tussle for Ukraine's future between Russia and the West, as demonstrations continued and spread to other parts of the country.

On Monday the country appeared to be inching towards resolving the crisis when the government granted amnesty to protestors arrested in the demonstrations after the opposition vacated Kiev's city hall and other administrative buildings.

A law dropping criminal charges against hundreds of protesters came into force a day after they left municipal buildings occupied in December, in response to President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to reject an EU trade deal.

However the opposition remains firmly entrenched in a sprawling tent city on Kiev's central Independence Square. Activists have also been allowed to continue occupying several public buildings.

Yanukovych proposed the amnesty at the beginning of the month as he sought to pacify protesters following deadly clashes in Kiev in January.

Some of the demonstrators who had their charges lifted under the amnesty had been facing jail terms of up to 15 years.

- Call for more protests -

Protesters had occupied Kiev city hall since December, creating a headquarters with places to sleep, a first aid area and even English classes.

The opposition also agreed to vacate part of Grushevsky Street, where riots left several dead and hundreds hurt in late January, to allow traffic to move freely.

On Sunday, an opening had been carved out in one of the street's barricades, but this was still fiercely guarded by a row of protesters in combat gear.

In the western city of Lviv, municipal workers overnight dismantled a barricade outside the city hall after protesters quit the building, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.

But protesters still have a host of demands, including a major reform of the constitution to reduce presidential powers in favour of the government and parliament.

Yanukovych dismissed his unpopular government after the deadly riots, but he has yet to appoint a new one and the opposition wants its members to be placed in key positions.

A Yanukovych aide said Monday that the president was consulting with "experts" over the nomination of a new premier and that he would make his decision soon.

"The president will announce the candidature of the prime minister in parliament after the end of the consultations. That will happen in the near future," presidential representative in parliament Yury Miroshnychenko told RIA Novosti.

Ultimately, protesters want Yanukovych himself to leave, and the opposition is calling for a major rally on Tuesday in front of parliament.

The opposition wants to force parliament to debate and vote on a raft of political reforms, including changing the constitution to weaken the role of the president.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140217/ukraine-opposition-asks-merkel-help-russia-pledges-more-aid