KIEV – President Viktor Yanukovych on Friday signed into law strict curbs on protests condemned by the U.S. and Europe and branded a power grab by the opposition.
The new legislation allows the authorities to jail those who blockade public buildings for up to five years. It also permits the arrest of protesters who wear masks or helmets.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the curbs anti-democratic and wrong, while EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said such actions “do not contribute to building confidence.”
Western rights groups had called on Yanukovych to veto the legislation, denouncing the bills as an attempt to impose a “dictatorship.”
The opposition has staged nearly two months of protests in response to Yanukovych’s decision to ditch a key pact with the European Union in favor of close ties with Russia.
Ukraine’s opposition fears the tough new legislation will be used to break up the opposition movement and prosecute its leaders.
The provisions, which mirror restrictive measures in place in former master Russia, are clearly aimed at the protesters in Kiev who are occupying City Hall and manning a tent city with massive barricades on the central Independence Square and its surrounding streets.