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Ukraine's President Vows Concessions to Anti-Government Protesters

Embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, facing massive anti-government protests in Kyiv and regional capitals, has agreed to re-shuffle his government and amend controversial new anti-protest laws.

The concessions were revealed Friday after consultations with religious leaders in the capital. In the widely reported meeting, the president said the changes will be enacted in a special parliamentary session early next week and include amnesties for dozens of jailed activists.

Ongoing talks between the president and opposition leaders are expected to stretch through the weekend.

News of the presidential concessions appeared to have little outward impact on thousands of protesters who have occupied the city's center for days. They are demanding the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, early presidential elections and the lifting of recently-imposed restrictions on protests.

Television footage late Friday showed massive bonfires burning at protest encampments near Independence Square and protesters erecting more street barricades. An uneasy truce called after the deaths of at least three protesters on Wednesday appeared to be holding.

Anti-government forces were also occupying at least six regional capitals Friday, after storming government facilities across a wide swath of western Ukraine.

Witnesses say the protest movement appears to have been infiltrated in recent weeks by members of a violent far-right militant group known as Right Sector, a loose alliance of nationalist organizations. The presence of the group adds a volatile element to the standoff that analysts say both the government and the mainstream opposition are struggling to contend with.

The crisis was spawned by the president's November 21 decision to back out of a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of closer economic ties with Russia. That decision resulted in a multi-billion-dollar bailout from Moscow that analysts say staved off near-certain bankruptcy for the impoverished country.

Immediately after rejecting the EU deal, pro-European protesters angered by the turn toward Moscow took to the streets of Kyiv and have maintained a presence there ever since.

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