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Yanukovych Rejects Opposition Demand; Protests Continue

  • RFE/RL

Pro-EU protesters stand guard at a barricade in central Kyiv on December 13.

Pro-EU protesters stand guard at a barricade in central Kyiv on December 13.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has refused opposition demands that he step down as protests continued in Kyiv against his decision not to pursue closer ties with the European Union.

Yanukovych held talks on December 13 broadcast live online with three opposition leaders -- Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the head of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) opposition party; world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, leader of the UDAR (Punch) party; and nationalist leader Oleh Tyahnybok.

Yanukovych, who survived a no-confidence vote on December 3, told opposition leaders that only the parliament had the right to fire him. He added, "The vote took place and you saw it."

The meeting, which lasted 2 1/2 hours, was the first between the government and the opposition since Yanukovych's last-minute decision to postpone indefinitely the November 29 signing of an Association Agreement with the EU sparked large protests.

During the meeting, Klitschko warned Yanukovych that using violence against the protesters could "have dreadful consequences for the country and for you personally."

Speaking after the meeting, Klitschko said the December 13 talks were "held only to demonstrate that not a single step is going to be made to accommodate the opposition."
A pro-EU protester crosses himself during a religious service on Independence Square in Kyiv on December 13.

A pro-EU protester crosses himself during a religious service on Independence Square in Kyiv on December 13.

Yanukovych promised an amnesty for detained protesters and for any others charged with crimes since the protests began.

"There were people injured, as they say, so those who today are under investigation, those who are not under investigation -- let's make a decision and on Tuesday [December 17] let's vote for amnesty, let's take all the questions to everybody. This is my proposal," Yanukovych said.

However, Fatherland leader Yatsenyuk insisted that the government and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who was also present at the meeting, resign immediately.

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Church and student leaders were also present at the "roundtable" mediated by former President Leonid Kravchuk. Ex-Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko were also present.

At the end of the talks, Yanukovych made an appeal "to all the calm down and end the confrontation."

Protesters Dig In, 'Provocation' Expected

Pro-EU protesters, meanwhile, were reinforcing their positions on Independence Square as a smaller pro-Yanukovych demonstration took place in nearby Constitution Square.

As both sides prepare for large rallies called for over the weekend, amid warnings by the opposition that the government is preparing "a large-scale provocation" on December 15.

PHOTO GALLERY: As mass antigovernment protests continue in Kyiv, volunteers have taken on the job of feeding the activists in the streets. The main kitchen supplying the protests, located at the dining hall of a labor-union building, is in operation 24 hours a day, making meals and hot drinks with supplies donated by supporters.

Protesters, many of them young people, want Ukraine to turn away from Russia and seek a more prosperous and democratic future in the European Union.

Yanukovych met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week to discuss what Ukrainian officials described as a "big strategic partnership agreement" aimed at eliminating differences on trade and economic policies.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on December 13 described the recent visits of European Union officials to restive Ukraine as "crude interference" in the internal politics of Russia's neighbor, and warned of a "tectonic split" that could threaten Ukraine's existence.

On December 12, Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov met with EU officials in Brussels and said the government would sign the Association Agreement "soon," but gave no clear date.

Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said the EU was prepared to offer Ukraine more aid if it signed the already-negotiated cooperation and trade agreements, and to help Kyiv negotiate a loan from the International Monetary Fund, but also gave no details.

READ MORE: Flip-Flops Point To Splits In Yanukovych's Circle

Meanwhile, Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest businessman, on December 13 called for a roundtable to discuss Ukraine's future, saying violence was "unacceptable."

Analysts say Ukraine's powerful oligarchs wield enormous influence over Yanukovych and are in a position to tilt the balance either toward Russia or the EU.

The Ukrainian government, which is nearing bankruptcy, is billions of dollars in debt.

Moscow wants Ukraine to join a Russia-led customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

With reporting by dpa, Interfax, and Reuters