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New talks start in Ukraine

January 25, 2014

The Ukrainian opposition has opened fresh talks with President Viktor Yanukovych. The president has reportedly offered the opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the position of prime minister.

Image: Getty Images

Frontlines harden in Kyiv

According to his website, Yanukovych began talks with the three main opposition leaders: former boxer Vitali Klitschko, former Economy Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and nationalist Oleh Tyahnybok.

The weekend has seen rallies in the center of Kyiv despite promises by Yanukovych to reshuffle the government and promote changes to sweeping anti-protest legislation. Yatsenyuk had no immediate comment on Yanukovych's offering him the country's second-in-command position.

Despite the president's conciliatory tone, Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko said police would consider protesters on Kyiv's Independence Square and occupying public buildings members of "extremist groups."

Zakharchenko, among the government figures that protesters most despise, hinted that police might soon take action. In a statement Saturday, Zakharchenko said authorities would use force against those who joined protests. Adding to tension, Klitschko's Udar party announced on Twitter that members believed police had already received an order to storm the protest zones.

'Spiral of violence'

The United States has warned Yanukovych that his failure to ease the standoff could have consequences for its relationship with Ukraine. Germany, France and other governments have also urged him to talk to the opposition. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton plans to visit Kyiv next week.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle held talks with Yanukovych on Friday, urging the Ukrainian government to halt "a spiral of violence and intimidation."

Russia, however, stepped up its warnings against international interference in Ukraine, telling EU officials to prevent outside meddling and cautioning the United States against inflammatory statements.

"I told (US Secretary of State) John Kerry that is very important now not to interfere in the process and to avoid any statements that will only heat up the situation," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. "I hoped he heard me," he added in an interview with the Russian state television news program Vesti v Subbotu.

Growing death toll

A man who suffered serious chest injuries at the hands of riot police on Wednesday was reported to have died on Saturday after having undergone several operations. Before him, five people were already believed to have died at the hands of police this week, following the controversial introduction of new anti-protest laws. Authorities confirmed three shooting deaths, but have said police were not involved.

Talks on Thursday between Yanukovych and protest leaders appeared to have done little to reduce tensions, with demonstrators extending the site of their camp on Friday and strengthening barricades. Hundreds of activists have already occupied city hall and the Agricultural Ministry.

Ukraine was plunged into a two-month crisis after the president refused to sign an association deal with the EU in late November in favor of closer economic ties with Russia. The largely peaceful protests have grown to also embrace discontent with misrule and corruption. Adding to tensions, the opposition has raised the prospect of the government's declaring a state of emergency.

mkg/slk (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)