Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has offered opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the post of prime minister and to change the constitution in a bid to resolve the country’s political crisis, the presidency said.
In talks with the opposition, Yatsenyuk was offered the post of government chief in place of current Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, the presidency said in a statement.
“If he (Yatsenyuk) agrees to take the post of prime minister then a decision will be taken for the government to resign,” Justice Minister Olena Lukash said in the statement.
Fellow opposition leader and world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko was offered the post of deputy prime minister in charge of humanitarian affairs, she added.
“The president is convinced that joint work together with the opposition will help the state unite and carry out the necessary reforms for state and society,” she added.
The president also promised to consider changes to the Ukrainian constitution – which currently gives the head of state huge powers – either through a referendum or through legislation, the statement said.
“The sides also agreed that the squares and the streets of Kiev will be gradually cleared of both protesters and security forces,” it added.
The offer raises hopes of a breakthrough in a week-long crisis that has left at least three dead according to officials and raised fears of a prolonged civil conflict.
The new round of crisis talks yesterday with opposition leaders were held as fears grew of an impending crackdown on thousands of protesters locked in a stand-off with police in Kiev.
The Ukrainian interior minister warned that efforts to solve the country’s deadly crisis without using force were proving “futile” as the opposition accused Yanukovych of planning to impose a state of emergency.
The European Union urged concrete steps to end the crisis, which has raised fears of a prolonged civil conflict and according to officials has already left three dead.
The authorities also faced mounting pressure outside Kiev with protesters storming regional administration offices not just in the anti-Yanukovych west of the country but also north and east of Kiev.
With tensions rising in the capital after a night of sporadic clashes between security forces and protesters, Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko bluntly warned that the use of force was a possibility.
“The events of the last days in the Ukrainian capital have shown that our attempts to solve the conflict peacefully, without recourse to a confrontation of force, remain futile,” he said in a statement.
Accusing the mainstream opposition of failing to control radicals, Zakharchenko said the authorities now had information that the protesters were “hoarding firearms” at their headquarters.
He later said that all protesters remaining on Independence Square and occupying official buildings in Kiev would be considered as “extremist groups” and the authorities would use force if need be.
In a possible last-ditch attempt to find a peaceful solution, Yanukovych held the unscheduled talks with the opposition.
The presidency said that he met with UDAR (Punch) party leader and world boxing champion Klitschko, Fatherland party leader Yatsenyuk and nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party leader Oleg Tyagnybok at the presidential administration.
In a sign of a possible split within the ruling Regions Party over how to deal with the crisis, Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov said that dialogue was the only way forward.
“There can be only one solution to the political crisis – a peaceful one. Any use of force is unacceptable,” said Akhmetov, an ally of Yanukovych and bankroller of his party. “The only way out is to move from street confrontation to negotiations,” he added in a statement released by his SCM holding company (see accompanying report).
Yatsenyuk’s Fatherland party said in a statement on its website that it had information that the decree on the emergency situation was ready to be signed by the president and the authorities were preparing to disperse protesters.
The epicentre of the crisis – Ukraine’s worst since its independence in 1991 – was relatively calm early yesterday but hundreds of protesters were still at the scene with the security forces on the other side of their lines.
A Ukrainian protester who was severely hurt in clashes with riot police died in hospital, Kiev officials said yesterday.
The opposition said the man, named as was Roman Senyk, 45, had died of gunshot wounds.
The clashes have now killed six activists, according to protesters. The authorities have confirmed three shooting deaths but insisted police were not involved.
The protests first erupted in response to Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a key deal with the European Union in November. But they have snowballed into anti-government protests against Yanukovych’s four-year rule, which the opposition claims has been riddled with corruption and nepotism.
Yesterday demonstrators were still occupying regional administration buildings in Lviv and other regions across the pro-EU west of Ukraine in a major blow to Yanukovych.
Protesters were also seeking to seize buildings in regions north and east of the capital Kiev, signalling that the protest mood was spreading across the country.
In a conciliatory gesture, Yanukovych said on Friday that an extraordinary parliament session on Tuesday will “take a decision about reshuffling the government”.
He also said that parliament would discuss changes to tough anti-protest laws passed last week, which reinvigorated the protest movement, and that those detained in rallies who are “not guilty of heavy crimes” will be amnestied.
But the protesters packing Independence Square in Kiev have responded to the concessions with derision, calling instead for Yanukovych to resign.
World leaders have condemned the violence and urged the president to hold talks. But so far Western pressure has had little impact on the stand-off.
EU Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fuele, who held talks with Yanukovych in Kiev on Friday, urged the Ukrainian government to take concrete steps to halt “a spiral of violence and intimidation” and restore peace in the country.
“I have discussed a series of steps to this end, that could lead to confidence building and to a political process aimed at ending this crisis,” he added.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due in Kiev next week while the crisis is also expected to dominate an upcoming EU-Russia summit.
Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk has starkly warned of a “black scenario that is really possible: Ukraine falling apart.”
Radical protesters overnight lobbed petrol bombs, fireworks and other projectiles at police lines, despite the apparent concessions by Yanukovych, before a morning truce was called.
The overnight violence near Dynamo Kiev’s stadium, the new flashpoint in unrest convulsing the former Soviet republic, left fires burning and smoke billowing over the area. Protesters kept up a drum-beat of sticks on corrugated metal.
Though the violence died out in early morning after a negotiated truce, about 1km away, protesters stormed into the energy ministry.
“There was an attempt to seize the building. About 100 people came, armed. I went to them and said that if they did not peacefully leave the building, then the whole energy system of Ukraine could collapse,” Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky told Reuters by telephone.
Stavytsky, who was shown on TV Fifth Channel angrily remonstrating with a black-helmeted activist, added: “What is taking place is a direct threat to the whole Ukrainian energy system.”
A group of masked men wearing battle-fatigues and sticks maintained a blockade outside the building.
“We are here to check who goes in an out. We are allowing through only staff who are absolutely essential for the safe running of the ministry,” one of them, 23-year-old Andriy, told Reuters.
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