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Ukraine’s President Signs Protest Amnesty Bill; Military Wants Situation 'Stabilized'

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has signed into law a bill on amnesty for anti-government protesters.

The 63-year-old president signed legislation Friday that grants amnesty to those detained during anti-government protests. However, the amnesty takes effect only if other protesters vacate government buildings they have seized.

Opposition leaders have rejected the measure, which the president acted on after announcing a day earlier that he had gone on sick leave for an acute respiratory infection and fever.

Tensions in Ukraine rose Thursday, after opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov, missing since January 22, was found outside Kyiv with cuts and bruises to his face, along with other injuries. Bulatov said he was kidnapped by unknown abductors, tortured and held for days before being abandoned in a forest. Bulatov says he made his way to a nearby village, where he reached his friends by phone.



Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry issued a statement quoting military officials as calling on President Yanukovych to take "immediate measures" to stabilize the situation in the country.

The statement, posted on the ministry's website, said that during a meeting Friday with Defense Minister Pavel Lebedev, military officials deemed as "unacceptable" the "violent seizure of state institutions and interference with representatives of state and local governments to carry out their duties."

The statement quoted the officials as saying "further escalation of the conflict threatens the territorial integrity of the state," and calling on Mr. Yanukovych "as permitted by law to take immediate measures to stabilize the situation and achieve harmony in society."

On Sunday, Defense Minister Lebedev told Russia's Itar-Tass news agency that Ukraine's armed forces would not interfere in the country's political conflict.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is on a visit to Germany, will meet with Ukrainian opposition leaders on Saturday on the sidelines of an international security conference.

Kerry will hold talks with opposition politician Arseny Yatsenyuk and former boxing champion-turned-activist Vitaly Klitschko.

The United Nations' human rights office has called on President Yanukovych to investigate recent reports of deaths, kidnappings and torture during the nation's political unrest. A spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the commissioner is "appalled" by the reports.

Mr. Yanukovych issued a statement Thursday accusing opposition leaders of escalating the political crisis and saying the government has fulfilled its obligations to end the standoff, including a conditional amnesty for arrested protesters and replacing his prime minister.

Ukrainians took to the streets in November when President Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties to Russia.

Human Rights Watch has called on Ukraine's international partners to press it to investigate what the group calls "serious human rights violations" perpetrated between January 19 through 22. The rights group says it has documented 13 cases in which police beat journalists or medical workers at the protests during that time. It says Ukrainian nongovernmental groups have documented 60 such cases.

Human Rights Watch says available evidence indicates that in many cases, police deliberately targeted journalists and medics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he wants to wait for a new government in Ukraine before proceeding with a promised $15 billion loan to Ukraine along with substantial natural gas discounts.

Earlier this week, the Standard and Poor's rating agency downgraded Ukraine's credit rating, in part because of what it called the country's "distressed civil society" and "weakened political institutions," and its questionable ability to repay its debts.

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