Ukraine talks fail to end deadlock, uneasy truce holds

Head of Ukrainian UDAR (Punch) party Vitalii Klitschko speaks to protesters at the barricade in the centre of the Kiev late on Jan 23, 2014. Crunch talks between the opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych failed Thursday to end Ukraine's cri
Head of Ukrainian UDAR (Punch) party Vitalii Klitschko speaks to protesters at the barricade in the centre of the Kiev late on Jan 23, 2014. Crunch talks between the opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych failed Thursday to end Ukraine's crisis but an uneasy truce held after five days of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces. -- PHOTO: AFP

KIEV (AFP) - Crunch talks between the opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych failed Thursday to end Ukraine's crisis but an uneasy truce held after five days of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.

Ukraine's three main opposition leaders held several hours of talks with Mr Yanukovych but the relatively minor concessions offered by the president were greeted with derision by tens of thousands of protesters on Independence Square in Kiev.

In a development likely to severely alarm the embattled Mr Yanukovych, angry protesters in half a dozen regions in the nationalist west of Ukraine seized control of regional adminstration buildings.

This week's clashes, which came after two months of protests over Mr Yanukovych's failure to sign an integration deal with the European Union under Russia pressure, have turned parts of Kiev into a battle zone and left five activists dead.

After four hours of talks with Mr Yanukovych, the leader of the opposition Fatherland party, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said there is a "high" chance of finding a solution to end the bloodshed. But world boxing champion and UDAR (Punch) party leader Vitali Klitschko later said the president appeared to be turning a deaf ear to the opposition's key demand of the resignation of the government.

"I feel how tense the atmosphere is. I feel how great the hopes are. It (the outcome of the talks) is going to disappoint you," he said.

The leader of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party Oleg Tyagnybok specified that the authorities had vowed to release activists arrested during the protests.

He also said there was a proposal to create a buffer zone between protesters and security forces that would leave the main protest camp on Independence Square untouched by police. Both these statements were confirmed by the general prosecutor's office and the interior ministry.

But when Mr Tyagnybok asked for a show of hands about whether the talks should continue, the answer was clearly negative. It is not clear when the talks will resume.

Parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak said parliament would meet on Tuesday to discuss the protesters' demands for the government's resignation and the annulment of a controversial anti-protest law at a session expected on Tuesday, the presidency said in a statement.

Mr Klitschko had earlier brokered a truce in the violence between protesters and police and the ceasefire appeared to be holding into the night.

At the epicentre of the clashes on Grushevsky Street both protesters and security forces remained quietly behind their battle lines next to the stadium of the legendary Dynamo Kiev football club. But neither side showed any readiness to pull back, an AFP correspondent said.

"Every 10 metres there is Ukrainian territory that we have to defend and for which we will fight to the end," said one radical protester on the front line, who asked not to be named.

Both Mr Klitschko and Mr Tyagnybok, wielding loudhailers, visited the frontline barricades after their talks in a bid to persuade the protesters to continue to hold the ceasefire. Protesters after the talks also began further expanding their protest camp based on Independence Square advancing barricades up a street ever closer to Bankovaya Street where the presidential administration is located.