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Ukraine talks fail to end deadlock, uneasy truce holds

AFP-JIJI

Crunch talks between the opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych failed Thursday to end Ukraine’s crisis but an uneasy truce held after five days of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.

Ukraine’s three main opposition leaders held several hours of talks with Yanukovych but the relatively minor concessions offered by the president were greeted with derision by tens of thousands of protesters on Independence Square in Kiev.

In a development likely to severely alarm the embattled Yanukovych, angry protesters in half a dozen regions in the nationalist west of Ukraine seized control of regional administration buildings.

This week’s clashes, which came after two months of protests over Yanukovych’s failure to sign an integration deal with the European Union under Russia pressure, have turned parts of Kiev into a battle zone and left five activists dead.

After four hours of talks with Yanukovych, the leader of the opposition Fatherland party, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said there is a “high” chance of finding a solution to end the bloodshed.

But world boxing champion and UDAR (Punch) party leader Vitali Klitschko later said the president appeared to be turning a deaf ear to the opposition’s key demand for the government to resign.

“I feel how tense the atmosphere is. I feel how great the hopes are. It (the outcome of the talks) is going to disappoint you,” he said.

The leader of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party Oleg Tyagnybok specified that the authorities had vowed to release activists arrested during the protests.

He also said there was a proposal to create a buffer zone between protesters and security forces that would leave the main protest camp on Independence Square untouched by police.

Both these statements were confirmed by the general prosecutor’s office and the interior ministry.

But when Tyagnybok asked for a show of hands about whether the talks should continue, the answer was clearly negative. It is not clear when the talks will resume.

Parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak said parliament would meet on Tuesday to discuss the protesters’ demands for the government’s resignation and the annulment of a controversial anti-protest law at a session expected on Tuesday, the presidency said in a statement.

Klitschko had earlier brokered a truce in the violence between protesters and police and the cease-fire appeared to be holding into the night.

At the epicenter of the clashes on Grushevsky Street both protesters and security forces remained quietly behind their battle lines next to the stadium of the legendary Dynamo Kiev soccer club.

But neither side showed any readiness to pull back, an AFP correspondent said.

“Every 10 meters there is Ukrainian territory that we have to defend and for which we will fight to the end,” said one radical protester on the front line, who asked not to be named.

Both Klitschko and Tyagnybok, wielding bullhorns, visited the frontline barricades after their talks in a bid to persuade the protesters to continue to hold the cease-fire.

Protesters after the talks also began further expanding their protest camp based on Independence Square advancing barricades up a street ever closer to Bankovaya Street where the presidential administration is located.

Tensions have also spiralled outside Kiev and the governor of Ukraine’s western Lviv region, Oleg Salo, signed his resignation on Thursday after antigovernment protesters shouting “revolution” stormed his offices.

But he later said it was invalid and made under pressure. Hundreds of protesters vowed to occupy his offices overnight.

The success of the protest appeared to inspire similar attacks in staunchly nationalist western Ukraine, with protesters storming governors’ offices in half a dozen other regions in the regions of Ivano-Frankivsk and Zhytomyr west of Kiev.

The deadly violence has horrified Ukrainians, who have never witnessed such scenes in their country, including during the 2004 Orange Revolution which was almost entirely peaceful.

A member of Ukraine’s elite Berkut riot police force assaulted and humiliated a naked protester after he was detained in freezing temperatures in Kiev, according to a video posted Thursday. The interior ministry apologized.

International concern grew, with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden calling Yanukovych to press for a peaceful end to its deadly crisis, the White House said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Yanukovych Thursday and urged the president to “start serious dialogue with the opposition and to reach concrete results,” a statement said.

French President Francois Hollande Wednesday expressed serious concern and urged the government to ensure the rule of law.

But senior diplomats from EU nations meanwhile rejected a call from fellow EU member Lithuania to impose sanctions against the Ukrainian government in reprisal for the violence, said an EU diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.

Ukraine’s former master Russia, which has regarded the country’s pro-EU protest movement with suspicion from the start, has taken a different view and blamed the opposition and West for the clashes.