Biden to Ukrainian president: De-escalate

Vice President Biden phoned Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych Monday to warn against steps that would further inflame tensions between government forces and the protesters who have flooded the capital city of Kiev.

Biden's call, the second conversation between the leaders in less than a week, followed an announcement by the Ukrainian government earlier Monday that it was going to repeal a set of laws signed by Yanukovych on Jan. 16 that placed tight restrictions on protests and prohibited the wearing of helmets and gas masks. The laws intensified the violent protests already disrupting the nation. The Ukrainian government also agreed Monday to grant amnesty to demonstrators who had taken over the Justice Ministry headquarters.

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Biden expressed support for ongoing negotiations between the government and opposition and called for a “peaceful, political solution to the crisis."

The repeal of the laws must be formalized Tuesday in the Ukrainian parliament.

Last Thursday the White House threatened the Yanukovych government with economic sanctions if it continued its violent crackdown on protesters.

“Underscoring that no time should be lost, the vice president urged President Yanukovych to pull back riot police and work with the opposition on immediate measures to de-escalate tensions between protesters and the government,” the White House said in a statement Monday. “He also urged the government to take concrete steps during tomorrow’s parliamentary session to respond to the full and legitimate concerns of the Ukrainian people, including by repealing the anti-democratic laws passed on January 16.”

The new laws came in response to demonstrations following the Ukrainian president’s decision against signing a trade deal with the European Union, instead opting to join a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Critics have accused Yanukovych of cronyism and corruption and demanded the resignation of the government and a new presidential election.

The White House last week threatened the Yanukovych government with economic sanctions if it continued its violent crackdown on protesters.

Yanukovych also offered opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk a post as prime minister, which would enable the Fatherland Party leader to dismiss the current government — satisfying a major demand of the protesters. But Yatsenyuk rejected the offer, calling instead for additional negotiations with the government.