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Yanukovych Pledges Gov't Reshuffle As Protests Spread In West


Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych says the government will be reshuffled at a special parliamentary session scheduled for January 28 as opposition protesters continued seizing city halls in several towns and cities in western Ukraine.
Yanukovych also said at a meeting with religious leaders that the parliament session will grant amnesty to jailed activists who had not committed serious crimes and will amend restrictive antiprotest laws that came into effect on January 22.
The opposition has called for the laws to be completely revoked.
Antigovernment protesters had expanded their protest camp in Kyiv on January 24 after long but inconclusive talks between the opposition and Yanukovych on January 23.
Activists also erected new barricades as thousands of protesters dug in on Independence Square (called Euromaidan by protesters) and also near European Square, on Hrushevskyy Street, just a few hundred meters away from Euromaidan.
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Huge fires and billowing smoke can be seen on Euromaidan as large numbers of tires are burning. Riot police have encircled the protesters.
Protesters also occupied the Agriculture Ministry building.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said that mediation by the European Union and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was needed to bring a resolution of the crisis in Ukraine.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele arrived in Kyiv on January 24 where he met with Yanukovych and Andriy Klyuyev, who he appointed as his new chief of staff. Fuele is also expected to meet with opposition leaders on January 24.
Opposition leaders held four hours of talks with Yanukovych on January 23, but protesters later dismissed vague concessions offered by the president.
Klitschko had told protesters the president appeared to be turning a deaf ear to the opposition's key demand -- the resignation of the government. It is unclear if his pledge of a reshuffle will be enough to satisfy them.
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Klitschko also told protesters to raise the pressure on the government.

"I just want to say one more time that by [Friday] morning, we have to lay the pressure on so that the government resigns," Klitschko said.
Meanwhile, protesters have also occupied regional administration offices in at least six cities in western Ukraine, including Lviv, Rivne, Ternopil, Chernivtsi, Ivan-Frankivsk, and Khmelnytsky, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported.
In Lviv, protesters blocked employees from entering the regional administration building after making the regional governor sign a letter of resignation.
WATCH: RFE/RL journalists describe January 20 beatings at hands of Ukrainian police:
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At least one regional official was forced to resign and the Volyn regional governor voluntarily left his post to "avoid violence" after his office was invaded by protesters, RFE/RL reported.
In the city of Cherkasy, protesters stormed the regional governor's offices, but police later regained control of the building. Activists said one protester was badly hurt and in critical condition in hospital. Police said 58 people were detained.
Unsuccessful attempts to take over regional administrations took place in Zhytomyr and Poltava, and in Vinnytsia, Sumy, and Uzhhorod thousands of people rallied against the Yanukovych-appointed administrations.
Criminal cases were opened against protesters in Lviv, Zhytomyr, Ternopil, and Cherkasy, RFE/RL reported
Klitschko, Oleh Tyahnybok, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk -- the opposition's three main leaders -- are due to hold another round of talks with Yanukovych on January 24.
The antigovernment protests began in late November after Yanykovych suspended a landmark agreement on closer ties with the European Union.
Clashes between protesters and security forces erupted on January 19, sparked by new antiprotest laws endorsed by parliament last week.
At least three people have died in the antigovernment violence. The Interior Ministry has confirmed that two of the protesters killed on January 22 had died of gunshot wounds but denied any police responsibility. It said one of the men was killed with buckshot, while the other died from a hunting bullet.
The body of the third was found after he was apparently abducted and beaten by unknown men. He is said to have died of hypothermia, Ukrainian officials reported.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP and Interfax