Ukraine Tensions Deepen as Amnesty Vote Splits Parliament

The passage of an amnesty law that requires demonstrators in Kiev to abandon the government buildings they are currently occupying has riled the protest camp and may spark further clashes

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Rob Stothard / Getty Images

Anti-government protesters gather in Independence Square on January 29, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine.

After a week of trying to appease the revolution in Ukraine, the government has finally dug in for a fight. On Wednesday night, the ruling party refused to grant the latest demand of the uprising – an unconditional amnesty for the revolutionaries who have seized the center of the capital. Dozens of them are now in jail, and as a condition for their release, the ruling Party of Regions demanded that protesters abandon the government buildings they have occupied for weeks.

This demand proved so divisive – not only between the rival camps in parliament but inside the ruling party itself – that President Viktor Yanukovych rushed to the chamber on Wednesday night to rally his supporters. “The word of the President is, was and will be decisive for us,” one of the party’s lawmakers, Anna German, told reporters after the vote, which barely passed after the President pressured his allies to follow the party line.

(MORE: Right-wing fringe groups take over Ukrainian ministries.)

In the hours that followed, a roar rose over the crowds in Independence Square, the epicenter of the revolution. One of its leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, warned that the actions of the ruling party “will only raise the temperature of the stand-off.” Yatsenyuk’s Fatherland Party, which controls about a fifth of the seats in parliament, voted against the amnesty proposed by the ruling Party of Regions. Instead, his camp proposed its own amnesty law, which would have freed all of the jailed demonstrators while allowing the opposition to continue its occupation of government buildings across the country. But the ruling party refused to put that bill to a vote, instead shoving through an amnesty law that tried to force the opposition to make some concessions of its own.

It was the first time since Jan. 19 that the government has resigned itself to a confrontation with the revolutionaries. That night, an attempted crackdown on the protests in Kiev, the capital, led to hundreds of injuries as demonstrators fought pitched battles against police, hurling Molotov cocktails and beating riot troops with clubs and bats. Now those battles could well resume. Only a day ago, Ukraine’s Prime Minister and the entire cabinet resigned in an apparent gesture of reconciliation with the protesters, but the state is now signaling that it has given enough ground. The next move will be up to the protesters, and from the sound of the midnight rally on Independence Square, they are gearing up for another fight.