Ukraine's president outlines deal with protesters as talks continue

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president on Friday confirmed elements of a partial deal reached with the political opposition, saying he would offer amnesty for dozens of protesters arrested in recent days, reshuffle his government and amend controversial laws that set off a fresh wave of protests against his rule.

But the opposition indicated it was still not satisfied and was seeking help from European organizations to mediate talks with the government, which were expected to continue into the weekend.

“After the parliament passes a law on amnesty for those people who have been detained in the course of these actions, including radicals on condition that they didn't commit serious crimes, all of them will be freed,” President Viktor Yanukovich said at a meeting with religious leaders.

Photos: Anti-government protests turn deadly in Ukraine

Parliament, which is controlled by the ruling Party of the Regions, is expected to convene Tuesday for a special session in a bid to resolve the former Soviet republic's deeply divisive political crisis.

Yanukovich has faced continuous street protests since November, when he announced that his government was backing out of a long-awaited trade deal with the European Union and linking Ukraine’s future more closely with Russia. The protesters’ battle with authorities gained new urgency — and brought a fresh round of violence — after the government last week adopted harsh laws to rein in demonstrations.

In his statement Friday, Yanukovich promised to reshuffle his Cabinet — a halfway measure in response to the opposition's demand that the entire government be sacked.

“Something went wrong and there are people who are to blame,” Yanukovich said. “So we together with the lawmakers will make a decision about those people, the president will sign a degree and we will reshuffle the Cabinet.”

Yanukovich wouldn't go into detail on who would be affected by the decision. During their five-hour negotiations with the president on Thursday, the opposition leaders specifically demanded the resignation of Premier Mykova Azarov and the sacking and criminal prosecution of Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said the proposals aired by Yanukovich on Friday did not go far enough, calling them “minimal steps” and saying that “they cannot solve the crisis.”

“That is why such proposals outraged people,” he said. “At first they demanded Interior Minister Zakharchenko and Azarov’s government to resign, but now the core demand is resignation of the president. But he pretends as if nothing is happening."

Klitschko urged that the dispute be mediated by representatives of the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, his representatives said Friday.

In recent days, security forces and protesters have confronted each other in the streets of Kiev, the capital, with clubs, wooden sticks, water cannons, flares, Molotov cocktails and rubber bullets. At least three protesters have been killed.

The protest camp’s medical authorities reported that 1,193 demonstrators had sought medical help this week in connection with the clashes, and that 662 were hospitalized. The Interior Ministry reported 285 policemen injured, with 104 of them hospitalized and hundreds more sickened by the harsh weather conditions in Kiev.

Violent protests against Yanukovich's rule spread Thursday across at least 11 regions of Ukraine. In many western and central cities protesters stormed and captured government offices. In two regions, protesters compelled governors loyal to the president to resign.

On Friday, several hundred protesters stormed the city council in the western city of Chernovtsy as the police retreated and the regional governor escaped through a back door, the UNIAN news agency reported. Protesters are also reportedly storming regional administrations in the cities of Lutsk and Khmelnitsky.

Yanukovich threatened tough measures if such protests continue and promised to do “everything to stop violence.”

“All those who violate the law and pose danger to the state must be stopped,” he said. “If we manage to resolve this peacefully, everything will be peaceful. If not, then all legal means will be used.”

Even as he spoke, protesters built new barricades in downtown Kiev, taking advantage of the relative lull in the clashes in the capital.

Many protesters were skeptical about the ongoing talks.

“I don't believe the negotiations will deliver any worthwhile results,” Vladimir Bondarenko, a 28-year-old factory worker from the Lviv region, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Yanukovich can't be trusted. He is simply biding for time in the hope that we will take his words for granted, pack and go home.”

Special correspondent Butenko reported from Kiev and Times staff writer Loiko from Moscow.

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