EU urges Ukraine to ditch anti-protest laws

Western leaders criticised Kiev for adopting tough legislation against demonstrations, calling the move “undemocratic”.

Legislation introduces punishment of up to five years in prison to people who blockade public buildings [AFP]

The European Union and the United States have expressed concern after the Ukrainian parliament passed sweeping anti-protest legislation amid demonstrations against the government that have rocked Kiev for nearly two months.

Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, said on Friday she is “deeply concerned” by the legislation and called on Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych to revise it as the bills have yet to be signed by the president.

Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters in Berlin that the decision would “inevitably have consequences for the cooperation with the European Union.” He did not give further specifics.

In a statement released late on Thursday, the US State Department called the laws “undemocratic” and said they contradict Ukraine’s aspiration to a European future.

New restrictions

New legislation introduces punishment of up to five years in prison to people who blockade public buildings, and possible arrest of protesters who wear masks or helmets.

Other provisions passed on Thursday introduced the term “foreign agent” to be applied to NGOs that receive even the smallest funding from foreign countries, simplified prosecution of lawmakers, and made dissemination of slander on the Internet punishable by a year of corrective labour.

The bills, “if signed by President Viktor Yanukovych, will destroy the manifestations of civil disobedience in Ukraine, begin repressions and turn Ukraine into a dictatorship,” said the Ukrainian branch of Transparency International.

Carl Bildt, Swedish foreign minister, said on Twitter on Friday that the new bills lead to a situation where “there can be no business as usual with Kiev.”

The opposition has staged nearly nearly two months of protests in a central Kiev square in response to Yanukovych’s ditching a key pact with the European Union and instead striking a strategic partnership with powerful neighbour Russia.

Source: News Agencies