Yanukovych met with opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko (the Udar Party), Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Fatherland) and Oleg Tyangybok (Svoboda) on Friday as protests continue in the wake of the government's decision not to sign an association agreement with the European Union on November 29.
The three opposition leaders had initially said they would not attend round-table talks unless the government resigned and an early election was called. Their wishes were not granted in a meeting that stretched over 2.5 hours and failed to reach any concrete conclusions.
Yanukovych rejected out of hand calls for his resignation, referring to the failed parliamentary vote of no-confidence that was easily defeated on December 3. "The vote took place and you saw it," he told the meeting, which was broadcast live online.
Klitschko, a former world heavyweight boxing champion who now has designs on the presidency, was quick to criticize Friday's talks.
"This round-table was simply a declaration and not a single step was made to meet the opposition. I have the impression that the authorities today did not listen to a single one of the demands of the opposition,” Klitschko said.
Earlier on Friday, the three opposition leaders had announced their intention to attend talks through a statement to anti-government protestors at Kyiv's Independence Square.
Amnesty offered for arrested demonstrators
It followed the news that several demonstrators arrested in clashes earlier in December would be released. Yanukovych extended that at Friday's meeting by again proposing an amnesty for all protestors facing criminal charges from the anti-government demonstrations.
Security forces had faced criticism over supposed heavy handed tactics in confrontation with protestors, with reports of fresh violence on Tuesday after the appearance at Independence Square of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
"There should be an amnesty, in order to give guarantees that the process of confrontation will stop," Yanukovych said.
"I am outraged by the radical actions on both sides ... from the side of provocateurs and from the side of the security forces, which have not always behaved properly," he added.
Klitschko warned Yanukovych a heavy hand would be the wrong approach: "The violent option which we know the government is eyeing could have dreadful consequences for the country and for you personally," he said.
Protesters show resilience
Local media reports claim the number of protestors at Independence Square is now around 15,000, with more than 4,000 spending Thursday night in the tent camp that now features new barricades on connecting streets.
Elsewhere, during a visit to Belarus, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Ukraine had to overcome a "tectonic split." He also criticized the appearance of Ashton at Independence Square, describing it as “crude interference.”
Ukraine's Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov - also present in Friday's talks - said a deal to remove most of the "trade contradictions" with Russia would be signed on Tuesday. He had said a day earlier Ukraine still plans to sign the EU agreement, but would require 20 billion euros to offset economic costs.
ph/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)