Ukraine outlaws public demonstrations after peaceful siege

The Ukrainian Parliament on Thursday pushed through sweeping legislation outlawing the installation of unauthorized tents in public spaces and imposing other new restrictions on protests that seemed aimed at authorizing the government to clear hundreds of demonstrators occupying Independence Square in Kiev, the capital. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/world/europe/sweeping-new-restrictions-take-aim-at-protesters-camped-out-in-kiev.html?ref=world

The law, hustled through Parliament in a surprise move by supporters of President Viktor F. Yanukovich, drew immediate criticism from opposition leaders in Ukraine and from Western nations, including the United States. They accused lawmakers of circumventing normal legislative procedures in a bid to suppress dissent by restricting freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Demonstrators have occupied Independence Square in central Kiev since early December. Mass protests in Ukraine began in late November over Mr. Yanukovich’s decision to back away from signing political and free-trade agreements with the European Union that had been in development for years.

After a violent crackdown by the police on peaceful protesters, opposition groups seized control of the square, establishing a tent encampment and occupying several public buildings, including City Hall.

Thursday’s measure was approved by Parliament, called the Verkhovna Rada, by a show of hands.

“Some of these measures will restrict the right to peacefully protest and exercise the freedom of speech, constrain independent media, and inhibit the operation” of nongovernmental organizations, the State Department said in a statement on Thursday.

The measure would bar the installation of tents, stages or amplifiers in public places, with violations punishable by fines of up to about $640, and 15 days in jail.

People or organizations who lead such demonstrations, or provide equipment for them, would also face fines and jail time.

A large stage has been in place in Independence Square for weeks, and it is the focal point of demonstrations against Mr. Yanukovich and his government.

Opposition lawmakers angrily denounced the legislation. “The current situation in Parliament shows that the parliamentary majority has turned into a criminal group of people who falsify votes,” said Volodymyr K. Kurennoy of the Udar Party, which is led by the former world champion boxer, Vitali Klitschko.

“The people of Ukraine have been deprived of civil rights and liberties,” Mr. Klitschko said.

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