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Ashton: Yanukovych Promised Solution Within 24 Hours

U.S. Assistant Secretary Of State Nuland Visits Independence Square
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WATCH: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Nuland visits Independence Square.

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton says President Viktor Yanukovych has promised to take steps toward solving the crisis in Ukraine within 24 hours.

Ashton made the statement after meeting Yanukovych in Kyiv on December 11 for the second time in two days. Her spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, said Ashton was now meeting with the pro-EU opposition.

Earlier, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told Yanukovych that police actions against protesters were "absolutely impermissible" in a democratic society.

Nuland told reporters after meeting Yanukovych in Kyiv that she had had "tough but realistic talks," which lasted for more than two hours.

Nuland added that Washington believed it "is still possible to save Ukraine's European future, and that's what we want to see the president lead. That's going to require immediate security steps and getting back into a conversation with Europe and with the International Monetary Fund and bringing justice and human dignity to the people of Ukraine."

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton was meeting three former Ukrainian presidents in Kyiv, and was reportedly due to hold talks with Yanukovych. Ashton said on Twitter, "In the next hours I will try to explore all possible ways to assure that a genuine peaceful solution is still in reach."

Meanwhile, "roundtable" talks aimed at defusing the political crisis in the country were held in Kyiv on December 11, but opposition leaders did not take part. The talks were proposed by former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and backed by Yanukovych.

A first meeting took place on December 10, also without the participation of the opposition, which denounced the initiative as "orchestrated." Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko earlier on December 11 said he would not participate. He said the talks had been "compromised" by the overnight crackdown on pro-European demonstrators.

Another former president, Leonid Kuchma, did attend the December 11 meeting but said that without the participation of the opposition, the "roundtable" was not "empowered" to propose any solutions.

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Nuland met earlier on December 11 with pro-EU protesters in Kyiv's Independence Square -- the focal point of the weeks-long protest -- following overnight clashes between demonstrators and security forces. In a symbolic gesture, she distributed sandwiches to both protesters and police.

Nuland is in Ukraine as part of international efforts to resolve a standoff between Yanukovych and demonstrators angry at his refusal to sign a key deal with the European Union.

WATCH: Police, protesters in tense stand-off in Kyiv.
Uneasy Calm On Kyiv's Independence Square
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Most of the riot police have now withdrawn from Independence Square, where thousands of people have again gathered. RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service says several thousand protesters are on the square and more are pouring in.

The demonstrators, who have been protesting Yanukovych's refusal to sign a key agreement with the European Union, have started again putting up some of the makeshift barricades removed overnight by police.

Security forces abandoned a bid to retake City Hall from some 200 protesters early on December 11, after hundreds of police poured into Independence Square overnight in an attempt to dismantle tents and barricades.

Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told the crowd that, after the government's crackdown, Yanukovych must leave.

"We have the right to demand the resignation of the president. Right?" he asked the crowd, to which it responded, "Yes!"

Later, Klitschko told a news conference that the overnight police action against protesters showed Yanukovych was not interested in compromise. "With what happened last night, Yanukovych closed off the path to any kind of compromise," he said.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko has vowed there will be no forcible dispersal of protesters.

"I want to calm everyone down -- there will be no dispersal," Zakharchenko said on the ministry's website, adding, "No one is encroaching on the rights of citizens to peaceful protest."

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The overnight storming of the square and attempts to dislodge protesters from City Hall came despite crisis talks that Yanukovych held with three former Ukrainian presidents and with EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Ashton, who is still in Kyiv, met with Yanukovych for 3 1/2 hours on December 10. She issued a statement the next day expressing "sadness" at the police intervention. "Dialogue with political forces and society and the use of arguments is always better than the argument of force," she said.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said on December 11 that the Ukrainian authorities had lost credibility after security forces clashed with protesters, ignoring calls from the West for restraint.

Linkevicius said the crackdown showed "the conscious choice that the Ukrainian authorities appear to have taken against the European path." He said he would go to Kyiv on December 12.

WATCH: Protesters, police face off at Kyiv City Hall.
Protesters, Police Face Off At Kyiv City Hall
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Yanukovych and his government have argued that an agreement with the EU would endanger economic relations with Russia and have expressed disappointment at the financial terms offered by the bloc.

However, Yanukovych has continued to reaffirm his intention to pursue closer ties with Europe in the future.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told a government meeting on December 11 in televised remarks that Ukraine would like to secure 20 billion euros ($27.5 billion) in funding from the European Union before it signs the association pact with the 28-country bloc.

But he said the money should not be regarded as compensation. "We are not waiting and not asking that they give us a present or compensate us," he said.

"We are not talking about the European Union giving us the necessary technical support to bring our industry in line with European standards," Azarov added. "We are talking about the involvement in big mutually profitable projects, which have created new jobs in our enterprises over recent years."

However, European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly reacted coolly to Azarov's statement.

"We have also seen different figures flying around when it comes to compensation or aid that would be necessary for Ukraine to help the implementation of an agreement with the European Union. We will not discus figures," Bailly said.

"We consider that this agreement is good for Ukraine's prosperity. This agreement is about investment. This agreement is about prosperity in the future for Ukraine. We are not going to play with figures," he continued.

"We consider that Ukraine's prosperity and Ukraine's future cannot be subject to a call of tender where the highest bidder gets a prize."

Azarov also said Ukraine's government was not yet prepared to sign an agreement with Russia's customs union.

Tymoshenko Rejects Dialogue

In a statement released by her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party on December 11, jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko urged the protesters to demand Yanukovych's resignation and called on Western leaders to "act."

Tymoshenko said "no talks, nor roundtables with the gang, only immediate resignation of Yanukovych and his circle."

Tymoshenko also called on Western governments to "stop the authoritarian regime in Ukraine with financial and visa sanctions, international anticorruption investigations."

Fatherland's deputy chairman, Hryhoriy Nemyrya, has left for Strasbourg to meet with European Parliament members and EU politicians.

Fatherland officials say Nemyrya, who is the chairman of Ukraine's parliamentary Committee for European Integration, left Kyiv on December 11 at Tymoshenko's request.

Nemyrya is expected to discuss the current crisis in Ukraine.

The EU says Tymoshenko's imprisonment for abuse of office is politically motivated, and allowing her to seek medical treatment abroad had been one of the main conditions for Kyiv to sign the EU accord.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, UNIAN, Interfax, and RFE/RL
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