Ukraine's Yanukovich holds crisis talks as thousands mass for rally

Ukraine
# 13 December 2013 18:13 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich made few concessions on Friday in crisis talks with the opposition, his first direct attempt to defuse weeks of unrest over a policy swerve to Russia away from Europe, APA reports quoting Reuters.

The meeting came as protesters streamed into the capital from mainly western regions for a mass rally on Sunday, boosting thousands already camped out on Kiev's Independence Square, focal point of recent demonstrations.

Russia, in the meantime, pointedly demanded that the European Union keep out of Ukrainian affairs.

Yanukovich, yielding to calls from the international community, began round-table talks with the opposition to try to find a way out of the conflict which has put Ukraine at the center of an East-West tug-of-war.

But with the opposition insisting on core demands such as the dismissal of his government, the talks seemed unlikely to head off another outpouring of anger against him on Sunday.

"This round-table was simply a declaration and not a single step was made to meet the opposition. I have the impression that the authorities today did not listen to a single one of the demands of the opposition," said boxing champion-turned-opposition politician Vitaly Klitschko.

Despite talks in Brussels by his government aimed at securing financial aid from the EU for his near-bankrupt country, Yanukovich still appeared on course to go to Moscow on December 17 to tie up a trade agreement which the opposition fears could slam the door on integration with Europe.

Highlighting the high geo-political stakes, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday said Ukraine must avoid a "tectonic split".

He said the appearance of EU politicians at Kiev protests was a "crude interference" in Ukraine's affairs - a clear reference to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and EU foreign ministers who have visited protest sites in recent weeks.

The national currency, the hryvnia, tumbled 0.4 percent on Friday to 8.31 to the dollar - its lowest level since 2009 - as the anti-government protests continued to jangle market nerves.

The round-table talks represented the first direct encounter any of the three opposition leaders have had with Yanukovich in months of crisis around his policy towards Europe.

This came to a head on November 21 when his government suddenly backed off a landmark trade-and-political agreement with the European Union after years of preparation and announced it was reviving trade relations instead with former overseer Moscow.

Since then the capital has been roiled by sometimes harshly handled pro-Europe rallies, involving hundreds of thousands of people at the weekends, who accuse Yanukovich of turning the clock back and selling out national interests to the Kremlin.

The opposition leaders indicated they would insist that Yanukovich meet their core demands which include the dismissal of the government and early elections.

"We will pass on to him (Yanukovich) your demands. We will fight for our common victory," said Arseny Yatsenyuk, a former economy minister, told crowds on Kiev's Independence Square which is known colloquially as the 'maidan'.

The two other opposition leaders, Klitschko and far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnybok, stood alongside him as he spoke.

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