Ukraine president returns to work as protests persist

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Photo: AFP
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych returns to work on Monday from four days of sick leave after opposition leaders appealed for Western assistance and an injured militant accused of rioting left the country for medical treatment.
 
Yanukovych took leave late last week for what was described as an acute respiratory infection.  His website said Sunday he is now feeling well.
About 30,000 anti-government demonstrators seeking his ouster protested Sunday in Kyiv\’s barricaded Independence Square.  It was one of the largest gatherings in two months of demonstrations against the Yanukovych government.
Yanukovych has accepted the resignation of his prime minister and revoked controversial anti-protest laws that angered demonstrators. But the protesters have demanded more concessions, including Yanukovych\’s resignation.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Dmytro Bulatov has arrived in Lithuania for medical treatment.
Bulatov appeared on TV last week saying he had been abducted and tortured.
Yanukovych has not been seen in public since last Wednesday. His office says he had been suffering from a fever and breathing problems but that he was feeling well again and will go back to work.
Bulatov arrived in Vilnius in the early hours of Monday morning and was immediately taken to hospital, the Baltic News Service reports.
Lithuania has promised to treat any protesters injured in the crisis.
He went missing on 22 January and re-emerged eight days later on the outskirts of Kiev.
He appeared on TV with a gash on his face and part of his ear cut off. He said he had been held and beaten for eight days.
His case became a new rallying point for anti-government protesters.
Bulatov was a leader of a group called Automaidan, made up mainly of drivers who would protect the protest camps and blockade streets.
He told the media he had been "crucified" by his abductors, who he could not identify other than to say they had Russian accents.
Opposition politicians Western diplomats expressed outrage at the incident.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the "deliberate targeting of organisers and participants of peaceful protests".
Officials had suggested Bulatov\’s account of the abduction might have been fabricated.
"The only thing he has is a scratch on one of his cheeks," Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara told broadcaster al-Jazeera.
"It looks like the alleged story that he was kidnapped and tortured is not absolutely true."
The United States has supported the protest movement, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying it represents the former Soviet-controlled country\’s fight for "a democratic, European future."
The protests started in November when Yanukovych, under pressure from Moscow, turned down a partnership with the European Union.  The Ukraine faces severe economic troubles and Russia has promised a $15 billion rescue.  But Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week the funding would not be released in full until a new government is formed in Kyiv.
Source: VOA and agencies

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