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Ukraine talks under way after violent clashes

Kiev sees a break in violence as opposition and President Yanukovich hold talks aimed at resolving political crisis.

Last updated: 23 Jan 2014 20:55
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Thursday's truce came after days of violent clashes in Kiev that left three demonstrators killed [Reuters]

A tenuous truce between anti-government protesters and security forces held in Ukraine's capital as the country's opposition sat down for talks with President Viktor Yanukovich.

Thursday's break in the violence came after days of clashes in Kiev that left three demonstrators killed.

Protesters extinguished burning barricades shielding them from the police after the three main opposition leaders urged their supporters late on Wednesday to refrain from violence for 24 hours until an ultimatum to Yanukovich expired on 8pm local time (1800GMT).

The protesters have demanded that the president dismiss the government, call early elections, and scrap harsh anti-protest legislation that triggered the violence.

Vitali Klitschko, world boxing champion and opposition UDAR (Punch) party leader, said that Yanukovich should start by releasing any protesters who have been detained.

"We are demonstrating our willingness to find a compromise, but the government needs to make its step in turn," he said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Earlier, a statement by the country's presidency said that Yanukovich had demanded an extraordinary session of parliament to ease the crisis.

Speaker Volodymyr Rybak said parliament would discuss the protesters' demands for the government's resignation and the annulment of a controversial anti-protest law at a session expected next week.

But he did not mention early presidential elections, a key opposition demand.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters stormed the offices of governors on Thursday in several regions of western Ukraine, in a new wave of anti-government anger in the provinces.

Global pressure

On Thursday, the White House condemned the violence that tool place in Kiev, urging all sides to de-escalate. It also threatened sanctions against Ukraine if the situation did not improve.

The US urged the Ukraine government to repeal anti-democratic legislation that was recently signed into law, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it would be wrong for Europe to respond to the violence with sanctions at this stage, but she expressed her outrage over the crackdown on demonstrators.

French President Francois Hollande also criticised the use of force against peaceful protesters, urging authorities to find a comprise to end the crisis.

"I call on Ukrainian authorities to rapidly seek dialogue," Hollande's office said in a statement, adding that the European Union remained ready to work on an association agreement for closer ties with Ukraine.

The country has been gripped by protests since Yanukovich rejected a deal with the European Union in November and instead signed a pact with Russia.

For the past two nights, demonstrators and police have been clashing in Kiev's city centre.  Two of the dead on Wednesday died from gunshot wounds, while the third died in a fall from the top of a football stadium.

Their bodies were found before police moved to tear down protesters' barricades near official buildings in central Kiev and chase demonstrators away.

Helmeted riot police moved in on hundreds of protesters, dismantling barricades, beating many with truncheons and firing shots at some.

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