Ukraine president to hold talks on political crisis

KIEV (REUTERS) - President Viktor Yanukovich, facing mass protests calling for his resignation, will hold talks on Friday on finding a way out of a political crisis that is weighing on Ukraine's weak economy.

But with the opposition unlikely to take part, a breakthrough was unlikely at the "round-table" talks including other politicians, church leaders and former President Leonid Kravchuk.

Thousands of protesters have rallied in a square at the heart of the capital Kiev for three weeks over the government's U-turn on policy away from the European Union towards Russia.

They are demanding that Mr Yanukovich step down.

Mr Yanukovich, who has said he still plans to sign an association agreement with the European Union, held talks with his three successors as president this week, but the opposition did not attend.

European Union and US officials have called on Mr Yanukovich to start a dialogue with all parties taking part in the protests.

Ukraine's richest man, Mr Rinat Akhmetov, added his voice to the calls, saying: "I am in favour of talks, so that politicians, authorities, the opposition ... sit at the negotiating table and agree on something we can be proud of."

Mr Vitaly Klitschko, a top opposition politician, said this week he would not hold talks with Mr Yanukovich after protesters were attacked by riot police at a demonstration. A spokeswoman said on Friday Mr Klitschko's position had not changed.

Independent political analysts say the opposition is unlikely to attend any talks until mr Yanukovich signals he will meet at least some of their demands, which include the government's resignation, the release of what they call political prisoners and the prosecution of the riot police who wounded protesters.