UK & World News

  • 23 January 2014, 22:46

Ukraine: 'Very High' Chance Of Ending Violence

One of Ukraine's main opposition leaders has said there is a "very high" chance of finding a way to end the violence and political unrest in the country.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the Fatherland party, made the comment after four hours of talks with President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev.

Former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, leader of the Punch party, and nationalist leader Oleg Tyagnybok were also at the discussions.

Riot police and protesters in the Ukrainian capital have been locked in a tense standoff following days of street battles which protesters say have left five people dead.

"We had the task of halting the bloodshed. The chance (of this) is very high" said Mr Yatsenyuk as he emerged with the other two leaders after the talks.

President Yanukovych has also called an emergency parliamentary session - likely to be held on Tuesday - which will discuss the protesters' demands, which include the government's resignation and the scrapping of a new anti-protest law.

Prime Minister MykolaAzarov earlier accused opponents of attempting to stage a coup and dismissed demands for a snap election as "unrealistic".

"A genuine attempt at a coup d'etat is being carried out," he said, while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Opposition leaders had urged "calm" ahead of Thursday evening's talks, but warned of fresh clashes if early elections were not called.

Fatherland party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the crowds he was ready to die for the cause.

"If he does not go down that path then we will go forwards together and if it means a bullet to the head, then it is a bullet to the head.

"Viktor Yanukovych you have 24 hours. Take a decision. I have taken my decision," said Mr Yatsenyuk, speaking to around 40,000 people in Kiev's Independence Square.

Mr Klitschko added: "Early elections will change the situation without bloodshed and we will do everything to achieve that."

Activists claim five protesters have been killed in recent days - four shot dead and one who died in a fall.

One of the dead protesters was named locally as Serhiy Nihoyna.

Prime Minister Azarov has said police are not carrying live ammunition and that opposition leaders should be held responsible for the deaths.

Police and protesters have turning an area at the heart of the city into a virtual war zone with demonstrators setting fire to barricades, hurling stones and Molotov cocktails, and police using tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.

Sky's Katie Stallard, in Kiev, said: "Protesters also burned tyres, mattresses, whatever they could find to keep going, and reinforcing barricades too.

"They have made homemade shields out of planks of wood and are rehearsing their tactical formations - how they plan to stand together and how they plan to protect themselves."

During confrontations on Wednesday, riot police beat and shot at protesters, volunteer medics and journalists.

The Interior Ministry said 73 protesters had been arrested and 53 of them were being investigated for "mass riots". It is a charge that was recently introduced and carries a jail sentence of up to eight years.

The US State Department has threatened to impose sanctions against the Ukraine in response to the continued use of violence against protesters.

The rioting intensified when some 200,000 took to the streets at the weekend in a show of anger over the new anti-protest laws rushed through by Mr Yanukovych.

The laws allow for jail terms of up to five years for those who blockade public buildings. They also ban protesters from wearing masks or helmets.

Discontent in Ukraine began last year when Mr Yanukovych refused to sign up to closer ties with the European Union in favour of a new accord with Russia.

Meanwhile, Russia said it would not intervene in the crisis, according to President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

"We consider we do not have the right to intervene in any way in the internal affairs of our brother Ukraine. That's unacceptable and Russia has not done this and will not do it," he said in an interview published on the website of Komsomolskaya Pravda.

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