February 1, 2014 - 13:17 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Ukraine's opposition leaders were set to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday, Feb 1, after the army urged embattled President Viktor Yanukovych to act urgently to end two months of turmoil, AFP reports.
Yanukovych on Friday scrapped controversial anti-protest laws but the reappearance of a leading protester, his face swollen and caked in blood, did little to win over the opposition or international opinion.
Yanukovych, who has been on sick leave since Thursday, repealed draconian anti-protest laws passed in January that had radicalized the two-month anti-government protest movement. The street rallies first erupted when the president backed out of a key pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow.
He also signed an amnesty bill for jailed opposition activists, but it will only take effect if protesters vacate the public buildings they have occupied within 15 days.
The maneuvers came after opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov, who went missing more than a week ago, reappeared Thursday night, saying he was tortured by abductors who cut off his ear and drove nails through his hands before dumping him in a forest.
"They crucified me, nailed me, cut my ear off, cut my face," Bulatov said in televised remarks.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. was "appalled" at the "obvious signs of torture" inflicted on Bulatov.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also said she was "appalled" while Amnesty International said the "barbaric" act should be immediately investigated.
Ashton said she would return next week to Ukraine, condemning what she described as instances of intimidation and torture against the opposition there.
Ukraine's interior ministry was reported by Interfax as saying Bulatov would be placed under house arrest for a week under suspicion of organizing major unrest.
The protest movement's leaders claim that abuse and beatings of activists are widespread.
Weighing in on the crisis for the first time, the Ukrainian armed forces called for Yanukovych to act urgently to stabilize the situation.
The defense ministry, which previously said it would not interfere in the crisis, said the seizure of government buildings was unacceptable and warned that "further escalation of the confrontation threatens the country's territorial integrity".
Ukraine's security service soon after announced a criminal probe into an opposition attempt to seize state power, after information on confiscated computers allegedly revealed the mass protests were "pre-planned".
Kerry said in Berlin that the measures pledged by Yanukovych did not go far enough.
Opposition leaders including boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko are due to meet Kerry for the first time Saturday, a meeting sure to infuriate Russia, which has warned against foreign interference in Ukraine.
The announcement of the meeting, on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich, came as the White House said it was consulting with Congress over possible sanctions on Ukraine.