By Maria Danilova
and Yuras Karmanau
KIEV, UKRAINE: As riots spread from Ukraine’s embattled capital to nearly half of the country, President Viktor Yanukovych promised Friday to reshuffle his government and make other concessions — but a top opposition leader said nothing short of his resignation would do.
After nearly two months of ignoring mass demonstrations calling for his ouster, Yanukovych offered to meet some of their demands, after crowds angered by the deaths of at least two protesters and allegations of abuse by authorities besieged government buildings in scores of cities in western Ukraine.
At a meeting Friday with religious leaders, Yanukovych vowed that, at a special parliament meeting on Tuesday, he would push through changes to his Cabinet, grant amnesty to dozens of jailed activists and amend harsh anti-protest legislation.
But Vitali Klitshko, an opposition leader who is a world heavyweight boxing champion, declared Friday that the only way to end the street protests — known as the Maidan after the central Kiev square occupied by demonstrators — is for Yanukovych to resign.
“Just a month ago, the Maidan would have gone home,” Klitschko said Friday night, according to the Interfax news agency. “Today, people are demanding the president’s resignation.”
The protest law enacted last week appeared to have backfired on Yanukovych, sparking confrontations in which demonstrators threw stones and firebombs at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. The violence since Sunday was a harsh contrast to the determined peacefulness of the anti-government protests that have gripped the country for the last two months.
The rallies broke out after Yanukovych scrapped a key treaty with the European Union in order to secure a bailout loan from Russia.