Ukraine’s embattled president offers PM post to opposition
Protesters to be considered ‘extremists’ if they refuse to leave central Kiev
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (2-L) speaks with opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk (3-R), Vitali Klitschko (2-R) and Oleh Tyagnybok (R) during a meeting in Kiev, Ukraine. Photograph: Mykhailo Markiv/Epa/Pool
A man reacts at a barricade near the site of clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police in Kiev. Photograph: David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters
Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich has offered top government posts to two liberal opposition leaders in a bid to quell protests that are growing larger and more radical by the day.
He proposed to appoint Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister and former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko as deputy premier, and to dismiss the current cabinet if they accepted.
“The president is convinced that joint work together with the opposition will help the state unite and carry out the necessary reforms,” said justice minister Olena Lukash.
Mr Yanukovich also expressed willingness to consider changes to the constitution, which currently gives him huge power, and to free some of those arrested during demonstrations and amend sweeping anti-protest laws.
They are the biggest concessions to be offered to the opposition during two months of protests, but are unlikely to resolve a rapidly escalating crisis.
Over the last week - when as many as five protesters died in clashes with riot police - mainstream party leaders have been shown to have little control over more radical demonstrators who want to oust Mr Yanukovich and overhaul the entire political system.
This group - which is largely disdainful of Ukraine’s whole political elite - is playing an ever greater role in protests on Kiev’s Independence Square, in other cities around Ukraine, and in confrontations with the security forces. They have also gained control of two buildings that house government ministries.
Many protesters say talks are pointless and claim Mr Yanukovich is just playing for time and trying to split the very broad and sometimes fractious opposition movement.
Earlier on Saturday, Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko said peaceful efforts to resolve the crisis had proved “futile”, and told protesters they would be treated as extremists and could be dispersed by security forces if they stayed on the streets of Kiev.
“Talks between police and protest leaders and opposition deputies, which continued through the night, gave no result. They are already unable to influence radical groups which control the occupied buildings and organise acts of violence,” he added.
Mr Zakharchenko also said police believe firearms are being stockpiled in Kiev city hall and a trade union building occupied by protesters next to Independence Square, known locally as Maidan.
“The international community should not close its eyes to these events, which include a high degree of extremist activity,” he added. “Opposition leaders do not disassociate themselves from radical forces, but they are unable to control them, and they are a danger to Ukrainian citizens.”