Ukraine MPs fail to strike constitution deal

KIEV (AFP) - Ukrainian lawmakers failed to agree on curbing the president's powers at a stormy debate on Tuesday as international pressure grew for ending the two-month crisis with the expected arrival of the EU foreign policy chief.

Ms Catherine Ashton is due to meet opposition leaders for dinner in Kiev on Tuesday and President Viktor Yanukovych on Wednesday to discuss plans for financial aid from Brussels and Washington in exchange for democratic reforms.

Ukraine's protests erupted in November after Mr Yanukovych rejected a key EU pact in favour of closer ties with Moscow, and the turmoil has now become an all-out movement to oust him.

Demands of pro-EU protest leaders include constitutional amendments that would cut presidential powers and freedom for arrested activists without conditions, but Mr Yanukovych's ruling Regions Party has insisted this can only happen if occupied government buildings are vacated.

In a sign that Mr Yanukovych's position is softening further, his personal representative in parliament Yuriy Miroshnychenko, told AFP that the president was considering "two possible scenarios".

"The first is the release of occupied buildings and an amnesty and the second is early elections. The amnesty is not working out," he said, referring to the release of those arrested in past weeks.

A conditional amnesty came into force on Saturday and gives protesters 15 days to leave the buildings but the opposition has dismissed the law, saying it turns activists into "hostages".

Protesters camped out on Kiev's Independence Square - the hub of a movement that has spread across Ukraine - expressed mixed feelings about the possibility of Mr Yanukovych stepping down before the end of his mandate in 2015.

"Until we see a complete change which is not just Yanukovych, people will stand here," said Vasyl, a campaigner from Lviv in western Ukraine.

Bogdan, an activist from Kiev, said: "It would be the best way for us. A full reset of power. Both president and parliament." At a pro-government camp just a stone's throw away from the protesters, 27-year-old Andriy Kucher said Mr Yanukovych's resignation would mean that "the military coup has been successful".

"He was democratically elected," Mr Kucher said.

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