Ukrainian President to End Sick Leave Monday

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -

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

Viktor Yanukovych’s office made the announcement about the president’s return the same day 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.

Yanukovych’s sick leave was announced Thursday, with his office saying he had an acute respiratory illness. Some opposition leaders were skeptical about it, however, and thought Yanukovych was disappearing from the limelight in preparation for imposing a state of emergency amid the deepest turmoil in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution in 2004-2005.

The protests, which are heading into a third month, began in late November after Yanukovych backed away from a long-awaited agreement to deepen ties with the European Union. They quickly grew to encompass a wide range of grievances after police violently dispersed some of the early gatherings.