KIEV, Ukraine — Ending an occupation of City Hall that began in December, Ukrainian protesters cemented an amnesty deal with the authorities Sunday amid signs that both sides in a volatile political crisis were seeking to reduce tensions.
After groups of young men wearing helmets and armed with wooden clubs threatened to retake the building if the authorities did not swiftly close all criminal cases relating to a protest movement now in its third month, Ukraine's prosecutor general announced a halt to criminal proceedings, ruling that protesters had met the conditions for amnesty set out in a Jan. 29 law.
The law specified that those involved in sometimes violent demonstrations would receive amnesty only if the protesters, among other things, unblocked Hrushevsky Street, a soot-smeared road piled with barriers that leads to the government's main office complex. In a sign that neither side wants to return to the bloody clashes that killed at least three protesters last month, the police pulled back from the barricades on Hrushevsky Street and protesters cleared a narrow passageway for vehicles to pass through tangled mounds of garbage, rubber tires, sandbags and ice. Late Sunday, however, masked men in helmets were still blocking nearly all cars and pedestrians.
The partial lifting of the blockade and the decision by protesters earlier in the day to pull out of City Hall eased, at least temporarily, a standoff with President Viktor Yanukovych, who set off the political crisis in November by spurning a trade deal with the European Union and tilting Ukraine, a bitterly divided former Soviet republic of 46 million people, toward Russia instead.
In a statement from Brussels, Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, welcomed the evacuation of City Hall. After weeks of demands and counter-demands, she said, "several important steps have been undertaken during the last few days to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine, thus contributing to a Ukrainian way from the current political crisis."
But deep suspicions remain. Scores of young men in camouflage fatigues who left City Hall early Sunday later returned, gathering outside in a military-like formation and vowing to retake the building if the prosecutor general did not sign a formal order lifting all charges against the protesters.