Scores of anti-government protesters yesterday ended a two-month-old occupation of City Hall in the Ukrainian capital to meet an amnesty offer.
Demonstrators had swept into the main municipal building in early December as a popular revolt mushroomed against President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to ditch a trade pact with the European Union in favour of cultivating close economic ties with Russia, Ukraine's former Soviet master.
Under an amnesty arrangement aimed at defusing the crisis, Ukrainian authorities have offered to drop all criminal charges against activists who have been provisionally freed as long as municipal buildings are cleared of protesters and some main roads unblocked by today.
Masked men in military fatigues and the demonstrators they had protected against riot police since mid-December filed out of the city hall but threatened to return if authorities did not carry out the amnesty promise.
Opposition deputies said protesters had similarly pulled out of municipal buildings in several areas of western Ukraine, a hotbed of opposition to Yanukovych, and in one part of the southeast where the president has retained more support.
"We are doing all we can so that the amnesty law will be able to enter into force. There was a decision made to free the building of the Kiev Council and we are doing that. There will not be a single protester left there," said Oleh Helevey, a deputy for the far-right nationalist party Svoboda.
"But if the prosecutor's office does not declare that the law has come into force, we reserve for ourselves the right to occupy administrative buildings again," he added.
Opposition sources said protesters had also agreed to ease traffic blockages on a road leading to government headquarters and parliament that was the flashpoint last month of violent clashes between riot police and radical activists.
But they said barricades would largely remain in place.
Another big opposition rally was scheduled yesterday in Kiev's Independence Square, focal point of the rebellion against Yanukovych.
The unrest was sparked last November by Yanukovych when he spurned a free trade agreement long in the making with the European Union and opted for a US$15 billion package of Russian credits and cheaper gas to help Ukraine's ailing economy.
At least six people have been killed in the unrest.
Andriy, commander of about 100 men in black balaclavas who filed out of City Hall, said the building was being cleared on the understanding that charges would be dropped against activists who had been earlier detained by police.
Asked what he and his men would do if the authorities did not fulfil their promise, he replied: "Then we'll come back."