Breaking News: Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigns in bid to ease crisis.
Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov submitted his resignation Tuesday in a bid to ease the political crisis rocking his country, according to a statement posted on the government's website.
His action is intended to "create more opportunities for social and political compromise for a peaceful settlement of the conflict," his statement said.
That conflict "is a threat to the entire Ukrainian society and every citizen," Azarov said, adding that the government was doing all it could to prevent bloodshed.
There is no word yet on whether President Viktor Yanukovych has accepted the resignation.
Azarov's move came as the country's Parliament met in a special session aimed at ending a political crisis that has sparked days of violent protests.
The lawmakers are due to debate the repeal of sweeping anti-protest laws rammed through Parliament on January 16 by members of Yanukovych's Party of Regions.
The Parliament held a moment's silence to remember the several people killed in demonstrations since the law was passed, state news agency Ukrinform reported.
Anger over the legislation escalated long-running anti-government protests into violent confrontations, with police and protesters fighting pitched battles in the capital's icy streets.
It's not clear how far the resignation of Azarov will go to satisfy the demands of protesters who, despite the cold and threat of violence, have massed in and around central Kiev's Independence Square, or Maidan, to demand Yanukovych's ouster and new elections.
Vitali Klitschko, leader of the opposition Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms party, or UDAR, told reporters he believed Azarov had submitted his resignation to avoid liability over the current situation.
"It is important to stop repression, which has burst out across the country by authorities when people are unreasonably thrown in jail. We must put an end to it. We will use any platform to defend the interests of people either at a parliamentary tribune, or in the streets," Klitschko said, according to his party's website.
Another round of talks was held Monday between the government and the opposition as they sought a resolution to the crisis.
Justice Minister Olena Lukash said Monday that opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who heads the Fatherland Party, had refused Yanukovich's offer to be prime minister.
If he had accepted, he would have been able to dismiss the current government, which has been one of the protesters' demands. But he would likely have been seen as selling out by many of the protesters in the street.
State of emergency threatened
Lukash said late Monday that the anti-protest laws passed on January 16 would be repealed and the protesters who occupied her ministry would receive amnesty -- as long as they cleared out of "all seized premises and roads."
Anti-government demonstrators had seized the Justice Ministry building on Sunday night but cleared out Monday after Lukash threatened to impose a state of emergency.
Opposition spokeswoman Lesya Orobets warned that such a step could lead to the use of military units to suppress protests.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who is expected to arrive Tuesday in Kiev in a bid to defuse the crisis, also urged the government not to impose a state of emergency.
The move "would trigger a further downward spiral for Ukraine, which would benefit no one," she said in a written statement late Monday.
"What is urgently needed is a genuine dialogue to build a new consensus on the way forward," Ashton said. "I hope that the Ukrainian parliament will set a clear path during tomorrow's session towards a political solution. This must include revoking the package of laws passed on 16 January."
Ashton will travel to Kiev after attending a long-planned "Russia summit" in Brussels, Belgium, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, her spokesman, Michael Mann, said Tuesday.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy are also taking part in the summit. It's expected to last about 2.5 hours, shorter than originally planned, Mann said.
There have been tensions between Russia and the European Union over developments in Ukraine, with each side accusing the other of interference.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Yanukovych on Monday night to reiterate American support for "a peaceful, political solution to the crisis," the White House said.
"Underscoring that no time should be lost, the vice president urged President Yanukovych to pull back riot police and work with the opposition on immediate measures to de-escalate tensions between protesters and the government," a White House readout of the call stated.
"He also urged the government to take concrete steps during tomorrow's parliamentary session to respond to the full and legitimate concerns of the Ukrainian people, including by repealing the anti-democratic laws passed on January 16."
Government offer rejected
Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, is home to 45 million people. The clashes over the past 10 days are an escalation of weeks of largely peaceful public protests prompted by Yanukovych's decision in November to spurn a planned trade deal with the European Union and turn toward Russia instead.
The mass protests have galvanized the opposition parties challenging Yanukovych and his government.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion, said Sunday that he had rejected the post of deputy prime minister on humanitarian issues.
His announcement was greeted by loud cheers from the crowd -- but his UDAR party said it was ready to continue negotiations with the government.
After the talks Monday, Klitschko said he hoped Yanukovych's government would not invoke a state of emergency -- a step he said would "result in a new phase of the crisis escalation and will take us nowhere."