Ukrainian president to seek protesters' release to defuse tensions

KIEV (AP) - Ukraine's president says he will ask the country's general prosecutor to find a way to release some of the demonstrators who were arrested in recent protests, in a bid to defuse the country's tensions.

Ukraine's capital has been gripped by more than three weeks of demonstrations - some attracting hundreds of thousands - which began as protests against President Viktor Yanukovych's backing away from a pact to deepen ties with the European Union. The protests grew larger and more vehement after police twice violently dispersed demonstrators.

The release of those arrested in the dispersals is one of the key demands of opposition leaders who are driving the protests. It was unclear whether Mr Yanukovych's offer, made in a meeting with the country's three former presidents, would mollify the opposition.

Mr Yanukovych's offer covered only some of the arrested - those who have not have not committed grave crimes and who have children or families.

"Certainly, such people will be released," he said in a televised broadcast of the meeting. Investigations of those freed would continue.

Opposition leaders have said their main demand for opening negotiations with Mr Yanukovych would be for him to fire the government and appoint a new one committed to deepening integration with the EU.

But Mr Yanukovych gave no indication he would consider firing the government and said only that Ukraine remains committed to closer European ties.

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