Ukraine protesters give ultimatum

Ukraine’s opposition has agreed to observe an eight-hour truce in clashes with security forces after five days of deadly fighting, but threatened to go on the attack if the government failed to agree to concessions.

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Opposition leader and world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko brokered Thursday’s truce after talks with radical protesters and armoured security forces on the front line of the clashes, saying the ceasefire should hold while he conducts talks with President Viktor Yanukovych.

The fighting, which activists say has left five protesters dead, raged into the night at the epicentre of the clashes in central Kiev, with demonstrators hurling Molotov cocktails and security forces using stun grenades.

The bloody clashes, which have turned parts of the usually placid capital into a war zone, marked a new peak in tensions after two months of protests over the government’s failure to sign a deal for closer integration with the European Union under Russian pressure.

“By 8pm (0500 AEDT Friday) I will return to you and inform you of the result of the talks,” the Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted Klitschko as telling the protesters.

“Keep the barricades in place but (be) calm until the talks finish,” he added.

An AFP correspondent at the scene of the fighting on Grushevsky Street confirmed that there had been a pause in clashes and that the truce appeared to be holding.

Klitschko and other opposition leaders are due to meet Yanukovych at the presidential administration Thursday afteroon for a second round of talks.

The opposition has said the president must agree to three key demands – the holding of snap presidential elections, the resignation of the government and the annulment of anti-protest laws passed last week – for a compromise to be reached.

The protesters have marked their front line with a semicircle of burning tyres that have sent rancid plume of black smoke billowing into the Kiev sky and are visible throughout the city.

However under the terms of the truce, protesters allowed police to douse the fires with water cannon and now only white smoke was rising at the scene.

Tens of thousands Wednesday evening had filled Independence Square in Kiev, which was the main protest hub for the past two months, hoping their sheer numbers would deter any attempt by police to disperse the rally.

They sought to reinforce the protest barricades by several metres by filling sandbags with snow, turning the protest zone around Independence Square into a virtual fortress.

Klitschko told crowds on Independence Square that protesters will go “on the attack” if Yanukovych does not swiftly offer concessions.

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