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Kyiv Protesters Jeer Truce Offer, Build More Barricades


Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk
Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk
Tensions remain high in Kyiv with protesters denouncing a government offer for a truce if demonstrators refrain from violence and remove their street barricades.

Ukraine’s three main opposition leaders announced details of the truce offer to protesters in the early morning hours of January 24 after meeting late into the night with President Viktor Yanukovych.

The crowds of demonstrators responded with chants of "revolution" and by erecting more barricades.

Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk said as he emerged from the crisis talks that there was a “very high” chance further bloodshed in the country can be halted.

He then marched to Independence Square to announce the truce proposal to protesters who’ve been encamped there since November.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnybok went to central Kyiv’s Hrushevskoho Street to speak to demonstrators who have kept barricade fires fueled with tires and debris since January 19.

In the glow of the barricade flames, which face an Interior Ministry police line near the Ukrainian parliament and government headquarters building, Klitschko and Tyahnybok told demonstrators that the government had offered to release all detained protesters over the next three days. In return, they explained, demonstrators must “stop using force.”

But the crowd at the barricades – having faced police stun grenades and tear gas for days, and angered by the deaths on January 22 of at least three protesters – denounced the offer, chanting “shame" and calling for protests to continue.

Later in the night, when all three opposition leaders appeared at Independence Square, that crowd also appeared to reject the truce offer.

Angry chants and jeers there prompted the opposition leaders to call for demonstrators to expand their protest area to occupy all of the streets from Independence Square to the flames of the Hrushevskoho Street barricades.

Further details about the government’s truce offer were posted to government websites early on January 24.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko's statement said authorities would stop arresting protesters or filing charges against those not yet detained if the terms of the truce are accepted.

A statement from the Prosecutor General's Office says it would ask the courts to release from pre-trial detention all demonstrators who are now in custody.

But the offer stops short of a full amnesty, meaning those already detained still could face trial under restrictive new anti-protest laws that went into effect on January 22.

Justice Minister Olena Lukash – in a statement posted to the Ukrainian president’s website – said the latest crisis talks also addressed the need for protesters to leave government buildings they have occupied.

Before those talks, opposition leaders called for a general strike had demanded Yanukovych call early presidential elections.

Yanukovych responded by ordering a special session of parliament to convene on January 28.

Both the Justice Ministry and opposition leaders have said the parliamentary session will address questions about “the accountability of government” – raising the prospect of a possible vote of confidence in the government.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the anti-protest laws passed by parliament last week “could be amended” with the cooperation of the opposition.

Azarov also suggested "experts of the Council of Europe and Venice Commissions" could help draft changes to the laws.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele is scheduled to join talks with Ukrainian officials on January 24.

Opposition leaders also were scheduled to join another round of crisis talks with government leaders on January 24.

But Azarov continues to blame protesters for the violence that has erupted during the political crisis.

"In my opinion, everything that is happening at the moment can be explained as a part of an initiative to stage a coup in Ukraine," Azarov said.

The protests in Kyiv began in November after Yanukovych announced his decision to reject improved political and trade ties with the European Union and, instead, favor closer economic ties with Russia.

That decision won Yanukovych a $15 billion aid package from Moscow.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden also spoke with Yanukovych by telephone about the crisis. He said "further bloodshed" in Kyiv would "have consequences" for U.S.-Ukrainian relations.
The U.S. said earlier it would consider taking sanctions against Ukraine in response to violence against protesters. Three people were confirmed killed on January 22, two of them were shot dead.

White House spokesman Jay Carney expressed concern about the violence in Kyiv.

"This situation arose because of the refusal of the Ukrainian government to listen to and take seriously the grievances of the Ukrainian people. The opposition movement here was a nonviolent movement and adopted those principles," Carney said.

"We call on the government to refrain from violence and we support dialogue between the government and the opposition."

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton says she will meet with Yanukovych next week to try to promote dialogue between the government and the opposition.

Antigovernment protesters gather in front of burning tires during clashes with riot police in Kyiv on the night of January 22-23.
Antigovernment protesters gather in front of burning tires during clashes with riot police in Kyiv on the night of January 22-23.

The latest crisis talks came after angry antigovernment protesters in western Ukraine stormed government offices in three cities on January 23.
In Lviv, hundreds of activists forced regional Governor Oleh Salo -- a Yanukovych appointee -- to write a letter of resignation.
Demonstrators shouting "down with the gang!" also broke into the governor's office in Rivne. Activists also protested outside other government offices in western Ukraine.

ALSO READ: Euromaidan's First Victims

Orthodox priests are helping to maintain the cease-fire at the barricades on Independence Square and an area near European Square that was the site of the worst violence.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Reuters, AP, and AFP
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