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Ukraine president offers opposition top government posts

Source: Reuters - Sat, 25 Jan 2014 07:22 PM
Author: Reuters
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* Yanukovich offers prime minister's post to opposition

* Would dissolve current government if offer accepted

* Calls for end to street violence and occupations

By Richard Balmforth and Jack Stubbs

KIEV, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich offered the opposition top government posts on Saturday, hoping to coax his opponents into ending protests that threaten to bring the country to a standstill.

After meeting opposition leaders, Yanukovich offered former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk the post of prime minister to replace Mykola Azarov and whose government would be expected to resign, the presidential website said.

Vitaly Klitschko, a former international boxing champion, would be appointed deputy prime minister responsible for humanitarian issues, it added.

There was no immediate reaction from the opposition leaders, who have been calling for the dismissal of Azarov's government since unrest broke out two months ago after Yanukovich rejected a trade deal with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia.

It was likely that after Saturday night's talks they would return to thousands of supporters massed on Kiev's Independence Square to report on their discussions with Yanukovich.

The presidential website said Yanukovich had promised that those detained during the unrest would be dealt with leniently if the opposition reined in radical protesters who have clashed with police and if they persuade those who have been occupying public buildings to leave.

Ukraine's interior minister had said that all those who stayed on Independence Square - the crucible of the protest where hundreds camp overnight - and occupied public buildings would be considered by police to be "extremist groups".

Police would use force against those who went over to the side of the radical protesters, who have clashed with police in front of Dynamo Kiev football stadium since last Sunday, the minister, Vitaly Zakharchenko, said in a statement.

DRUMBEAT

The overnight violence near the stadium left fires burning and smoke billowing. Protesters kept up a drumbeat of sticks on corrugated metal.

Though the violence died out early on Saturday morning after a negotiated truce, about half a mile (1 km) 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."

Hundreds of activists had already occupied City Hall and the agricultural ministry.

Though the protest movement - known as the "EuroMaidan" - is largely peaceful, a hard core of radicals have been fighting pitched battles with police away from the main protest on Independence Square.

The United States has warned Yanukovich that failure to ease the standoff could have "consequences" for its relationship with Ukraine. Germany, France and other Western governments have also urged him to talk to the opposition.

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

"I told (U.S. Secretary of State) John Kerry that it is very important now not to interfere in the process and to avoid any statements that will only heat up the situation," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"I hoped he heard me," he said, in an interview with Vesti v Subbotu state television news programme.

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