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In brief: Ukraine agrees to drop tough anti-protest laws

KIEV, Ukraine – Ukraine’s beleaguered president on Monday agreed to scrap harsh anti-protest laws that set off a wave of clashes between protesters and police over the past week, a potentially substantial concession to the opposition that stopped short of meeting all of its demands.

In a possibly major sticking point, a proposed amnesty for arrested protesters would not be offered unless demonstrators stopped occupying buildings and ended their round-the-clock protests and tent camp on Kiev’s central Independence Square, according to a statement by Justice Minister Elena Lukash.

President Viktor Yanukovych has been under increasing pressure since he pushed the tough laws through parliament, setting off clashes and protests in other parts of the country in a sharp escalation of tensions after weeks of mostly peaceful protests over his rejection of a deal to deepen ties with the 28-nation European Union.

U.S. protests decision to release prisoners

KABUL, Afghanistan – The U.S. military on Monday slammed a move by Afghanistan’s government to release 37 “dangerous” prisoners who it says pose security threats, calling the decision a “major step backward.”

The release of prisoners has been a sticking point in Afghan-U.S. relations as the two sides struggle over a deal allowing U.S. and allied troops to remain in the country past the end of this year.

The simmering debate has involved a group of 88 detainees at the Parwan Detention Facility that the U.S. says pose a threat to the country and region.

Relic with pope’s blood stolen from church

ROME – Police are searching an Italian mountain area beloved by Pope John Paul II for a stolen relic bearing his blood.

Vatican Radio decried the “sacrilegious theft” from tiny San Pietro della Ienca church near the Gran Sasso part of the Apennine mountains, where John Paul used to hike and ski.

Carabinieri paramilitary police Col. Andrea Ronchey in nearby L’Aquila said Monday that the relic – a bit of blood-soaked cloth kept inside a painted metal cross – was last seen Thursday in the church.

John Paul, who died in 2005 and will be made a saint April 27 during a Vatican ceremony, had celebrated Mass in the church.