Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych has taken sick leave amid violent protests in the country.
The presidential website said 63-year-old Viktor Yanukovych had a respiratory illness and a high fever.
The protests began in November after Viktor Yanukovych reversed a decision to sign a trade deal with the European Union, instead favoring a bailout deal with Russia to underpin Ukraine’s ailing economy.
Anti-government protesters demanding the president’s resignation are still occupying government buildings and manning barricades in freezing temperatures in the centre of the capital.
The past week has seen President Yanukovych accept the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet, and offer senior jobs to the opposition – offers that were rejected.
Ukraine’s parliament has also voted to annul a recently enacted law restricting protests – which appeared to be inflaming the situation – and passed a law giving amnesty to detained protesters, under the condition that occupied buildings were vacated.
Viktor Yanukovych had a respiratory illness and a high fever
Some opposition figures expressed skepticism about Viktor Yanukovych’s reported illness, saying he might be trying to buy time after being forced into concessions in an attempt to calm unrest on the streets.
“This smacks of a diplomatic illness,” Rostislav Pavlenko, a member of boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko’s Udar (Punch) party, told Reuters news agency.
“It allows Yanukovych not to sign laws, not to meet the opposition, absent himself from decisions to solve the political crisis.”
Mykhailo Chechetov, from Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, said the president had told supporters in parliament on Wednesday night that he had come to support the passage of the amnesty bill directly from hospital.
“He looked ill,” Mykhailo Chechetov added.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is in Kiev for talks with both sides. On Wednesday she said she was “shocked” by the violence in the capital and across the country in recent weeks that has left several protesters and police officers dead.
Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine’s first post-independence president, has warned the country is on the “brink of civil War” as parliament debates an amnesty for protesters.
Leonid Kravchuk, president from 1991 to 1994, opened the debate in parliament by urging everyone involved to “act with the greatest responsibility”.
President Viktor Yanukovych wants any amnesty conditional on demonstrators leaving official buildings.
The opposition has so far ruled this out and is demanding early elections.
On Tuesday, PM Mykola Azarov and his cabinet resigned after months of protests.
Parliament also scrapped a controversial anti-protest law in the biggest concession yet to opposition protesters.
Leonid Kravchuk earned a standing ovation in parliament after telling members that “all the world acknowledges and Ukraine acknowledges that the state is on the brink of civil war”.
“It is a revolution. It is a dramatic situation in which we must act with the greatest responsibility,” he said.
Demonstrations began in November when President Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of a planned trade deal with the EU in favor of a $15 billion bailout from Russia to bolster ailing public finances in the former Soviet state.
President Viktor Yanukovych wants any amnesty conditional on demonstrators leaving official buildings
The White House on Tuesday said the issue of a possible amnesty for scores of detained protesters had been raised in a telephone conversation between Vice-President Joe Biden and President Viktor Yanukovych.
The White House said Joe Biden welcomed “progress made” and called on Viktor Yanukovych to sign the repeal of several anti-protest laws.
On Tuesday, PM Mykola Azarov said he was stepping down to create “social and political compromise”. His deputy, Serhiy Arbuzov, has stepped in as interim leader.
Members of his cabinet also resigned, but they can remain in their posts for 60 days until a new government is formed.
Parliament, in an emergency debate on Tuesday, voted to repeal anti-protest legislation, which among other measures banned the wearing of helmets by protesters and the blockading of public buildings.
Correspondents say Mykola Azarov was deeply unpopular with the opposition, who accused him of mismanaging the economy and failing to tackle corruption.
Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has criticized what he called foreign “interference” in Ukraine.
Speaking at the end of an EU-Russia summit in Brussels on Tuesday, Vladimir Putin said visits by overseas envoys were adding to the unrest.
“I think that the Ukrainian people are capable of solving this on their own,” he said.
“I can only imagine how our European partners would respond if in the heat of a crisis in a country like Greece or Cyprus, our foreign minister would appear at one of their anti-European rallies and begin addressing them.”
Correspondents say Vladimir Putin’s comments appear to be a thinly veiled criticism of the EU and other Western nations that have sent a string of diplomats to Ukraine in recent weeks.
Ukraine’s Justice Minister Olena Lukash has warned anti-government protesters occupying her ministry she will call for a state of emergency if they do not leave.
Olena Lukash told local media she would ask the National Security and Defense Council to introduce the measures.
Protesters seized the building in Kiev late on Sunday and set up barricades outside with bags of snow.
Unrest is spreading across Ukraine, with activists taking over municipal buildings in several towns and cities.
Buildings have come under attack even in eastern areas, which have traditionally had closer ties with Russia and where President Viktor Yanukovych has enjoyed strong support.
The crisis was sparked by the president’s decision not to sign a deal with the European Union, and has escalated with the deaths of four activists in recent days.
Correspondents say protesters entered the justice ministry building in the capital without resistance.
Unrest is spreading across Ukraine, with activists taking over municipal buildings in several towns and cities
“The seizure of the Ministry of Justice is a symbolic act of the people of the uprising. Now, these authorities are stripped of justice,” one protester told reporters.
But Olena Lukash told Inter TV channel: “If the protesters do not leave the justice ministry building… I will ask the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine to impose the state of emergency.”
The minister is an ally of President Viktor Yanukovych and involved in the ongoing negotiations between the government and protest leaders.
She said she would be “forced to turn to the Ukrainian president with a request to stop the negotiations unless the justice ministry building is vacated without delay and the negotiators are given a chance to find a peaceful solution to the conflict”.
Last week, the parliament of the Crimean Autonomous Republic – seen as a staunch supporter of Viktor Yanukovych – also urged the president to declare a state of emergency.
The government has previously insisted it would not resort to the army, a measure our correspondent says would likely further antagonize the protesters and worsen the violence.
The parliament is due to meet for an extraordinary session on Tuesday, but the speaker has previously said a state of emergency will not be under discussion.