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Yanukovych, Opponents In Talks; Protesters Keep Up Pressure


Opposition protesters shout slogans during a rally on Independence Square in Kyiv on December 13.
Opposition protesters shout slogans during a rally on Independence Square in Kyiv on December 13.
Ukrainian opposition leaders are holding talks with President Viktor Yanukovych for the first time since protests erupted over his refusal to sign a key deal with the European Union.

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 are meeting on December 13 with Yanukovych and three former Ukrainian presidents at a roundtable discussion.

Addressing a crowd of supporters ahead of the talks, Yatsenyuk insisted the government should resign and that riot police who beat protesters should be punished.

"We are going to Viktor Yanukovych to deliver your demands," Yatsenyuk said. "Your demands of justice, your demands to punish those who treat Ukrainians badly, your demands to release those illegally detained and your demands for the resignation of the government and the creation of a new Ukrainian authority."

Yanukovych promised an amnesty for those arrested during the protests and said he would consider dismissing Ukrainian officials responsible for working with Brussels on the EU Association Agreement.

Earlier in the day, authorities announced the release of the last of the nine people detained during the December 1 clashes with police.

Pro-EU protesters have since been reinforcing their positions on Independence Square in downtown Kyiv amid reports of a rival, pro-Yanukovych demonstration being organized for this weekend in nearby Constitution Square.

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

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

Pledge In Brussels

On December 12, Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov met with EU officials in Brussels and said the government would sign the Association Agreement "soon," without giving any deadline.
"Euromaidan" protesters set up a barricade in downtown Kyiv on December 13.
"Euromaidan" protesters set up a barricade in downtown Kyiv on December 13.

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 (IMF) but also gave no details.

The opposition has dismissed Arbuzov's pledge and continues to demand Yanukovych's resignation.

Fatherland leader Yatsenyuk called Arbuzov's statement a "joke" and the government's latest move a "bluff."

"It seems to be a never-ending joke," Yatsenyuk told pro-EU demonstrators on Independence Square after a rally late on December 12. "The Ukrainian government always promises to sign an Association Agreement, but never met the promises. The EU is very clear saying that the door is open and the European Union is ready to sign the AA at any time. But my feeling is that this is a bluff from the government."

The government's sudden decision not to sign the EU deal at a summit in Vilnius on November 29 and to announce moves to strengthen economic ties with neighboring Russia sparked the "Euromaidan" protests.

WATCH: "Euromaidan" protesters on the city's central Independence Square joined together to sing the Ukrainian national anthem at 4:00 a.m. local time on December 13:
Ukrainian Anthem Rings Out During Overnight Protest
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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.
They are demanding the government’s resignation, new elections, and the release of detained protesters.

Moscow And 'Maidan'
The opposition has called for a massive rally in Kyiv on December 15 that would come ahead of a planned visit by Yanukovych to Russia next week.
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.
The Ukrainian government, which is nearing bankruptcy, owes billions in debts and for Russian energy supplies.
Putin on December 12 reiterated the economic benefits for Ukraine if the country joins a Russian-led customs union, but said Kyiv has the final decision.

On December 13, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev described the recent visits of EU officials to Ukraine as "crude interference in a sovereign state." He said "Ukrainian society will have to overcome a tectonic split that has formed" and added that the "split" threatened Ukraine's stability and even "its existence." Russia, he said, was "greatly alarmed."

EU officials have warned that Ukraine cannot have both an Association Agreement with the EU and be part of the CIS Customs Union, which so far includes Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was quoted this week as saying Ukraine would need 20 billion euros ($27 billion) in aid to offset the costs of signing the EU deal.

"We have not been discussing the concrete figures," EU Commissioner Fuele said after his meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Arbuzov in Brussels. "We first need to discuss what are the needs of the Ukrainian side. What is the commitment and in what time frame to implement the Association Agreement and then we could link our support to that process."

With reporting by Reuters, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, and AFP
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