Ukraine crisis talks ‘raise hopes’

The chances of ending the violence that has convulsed the Ukrainian capital are high, a spokeswoman for a top opposition leader says after a meeting with the president.


Olha Lappo, a spokeswoman for Arseniy Yatsenyuk, made the statement on his Facebook page on Thursday after an hours-long meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych.

The meeting came after opposition leaders gave a Thursday evening deadline to make concessions or face renewed clashes.

She did not provide details, but the assessment appeared to be the first sign of progress in resolving the two-month crisis that is threatening to spread well beyond Kiev.

However, some protesters were resistant on Thursday night.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, one of those who met with Yanukovych, went to the site of clashes to try to persuade demonstrators to hold to an uneasy truce, but was booed and some cried “Shame!”.

The demonstrators again set on fire barricades of tyres that had been quenched when opposition leaders offered the deadline.

The clash site is a few hundred metres away from the protester tent camp on Independence Square, where around-the-clock demonstrations have been held since early December.

At least two people were killed by gunfire at the clash site on Wednesday when riot police moved to dismantle barricades erected next to a government district nearby.

Demonstrators had pelted riot police with barrages of stones and set police buses on fire, while the officers responded with rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.

The opposition has blamed the deaths on authorities, but Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said on Thursday that the two men’s wounds were caused by hunting rifles, which the police do not possess.

The Interior Ministry said that the people could have been killed in order to escalate the crisis.

The opposition maintains that as many as five people died in Wednesday’s clashes, but say they have no evidence as the bodies were removed by authorities.

Enraged protesters stormed government offices in three western Ukraine cities on Thursday, forcing one governor to write a letter of resignation, as demonstrations intensified outside Kiev.

The Interior Ministry said on Thursday that 73 people have been detained, 52 of whom are being investigated for “mass riots” – a new criminal charge that carries a prison sentence of up to eight years.

The president called a special session of parliament next week to discuss the tensions, telling the parliament speaker the situation demands an urgent settlement.

But there was no indication that the move represented a compromise, since the president’s backers hold a majority of seats.

The protests began after Yanukovych turned away from closer ties with the European Union in favour of getting a bailout loan from Russia.

They turned violent this week after he pushed through harsh anti-protest laws, rejecting protesters’ demands that he resign and call new elections.

Support for Yanukovych is virtually non-existent in western Ukraine and most residents want closer ties to the 28-nation EU.

In Lviv, a city near the Polish border, 450 kilometres west of Kiev, hundreds of activists burst into the office of regional governor Oleh Salo, a Yanukovych appointee, on Thursday shouting “Revolution!” and singing Christmas carols.

After surrounding him and forcing him to sign a resignation letter, an activist ripped it out of Salo’s hands and lifted it up to the cheers and applause of the crowd.

Salo later retracted his signature, saying he had been coerced.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters smashed windows, broke doors and stormed into the governor’s office in the city of Rivne, shouting “Down with the gang!” – a common reference to Yanukovych’s government.

Once inside, they sang the national anthem.

Angry crowds also besieged government offices in other western regions.

Anger also spread after a video was released online appearing to show police abusing and humiliating a naked protester in what looked like a location close to the site of the Kiev clashes.

In the video, a young man, his body covered in multiple bruises, wearing nothing but socks, is made to stand on the snow in freezing temperatures, while a policeman punches him in the head and others force him to pose for photos.

The Interior Ministry issued a statement, apologising “for the impermissible actions of people wearing police uniforms” and launched an investigation into the incident.

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