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Ukraine leader to end sick leave today

Opposition vows to press ahead with demands in huge rally

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An Orthodox priest on Sunday goes between riot police and opposition activists' barricades in central Kiev, the epicenter of the Ukraine's current unrest. Kitted out in masks, helmets and protective gear on the arms and legs, radical activists are the wild card of the Ukraine protests now starting their third month, declaring they're ready to resume violence if the stalemate persists.

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KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president will return today from a short sick leave that had sparked a guessing game about whether he was taking himself out of action in preparation to step down or for a crackdown on anti-government protests.

President Viktor Yanukovych’s office made the announcement about his return as protesters seeking his resignation held one of their largest gatherings in recent weeks.

About 20,000 people assembled at the main protest site in Kiev’s central square on Sunday.

The president’s sick leave was announced Thursday, with his office saying he had an acute respiratory illness.

Some opposition leaders thought he was preparing to impose a state of emergency amid the deepest turmoil in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution in 2004-05.

The protests began in late November after Mr. Yanukovych backed away from a pact to deepen ties with the European Union.

The rallies encompassed other grievances after police violently dispersed some early gatherings.

Opposition figures at Sunday’s rally urged supporters to press ahead with their demands. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, one of the protest leaders, emphasized the importance of obtaining the release of all people arrested during the protests.

Mr. Yanukovych’s sick leave was announced the morning after parliament voted to offer amnesty to many of those arrested during protests if demonstrators vacate some of the buildings they occupy in Kiev and government buildings elsewhere.

Protesters characterized the measure as the government taking hostages, then using them to negotiate concessions.

On Tuesday, parliament is expected to weigh constitutional reforms to reduce some presidential powers and allot them to the prime minister. Mr. Yanukovych last week accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

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