Masked men with bats watch a rally of anti-government
Police clashed with protesters in central Kiev and the
fate of Ukraine's government was uncertain after embattled
President Viktor Yanukovich offered key posts to opposition
leaders, including the role of prime minister.
One of the president's main foes described his offer as a
"poisoned" attempt to divide the opposition and kill off mass
protests. The demonstrations erupted late last year when
Yanukovich ditched landmark agreements with the European
Union and opted instead for closer ties with Russia.
Emboldened opposition leaders said they would press for more
concessions, including early elections, setting the stage for
a tough political battle when parliament meets for a special
session on Tuesday.
The two-month standoff has sparked the worst violence in
Ukraine since it won independence in 1991, as the Soviet
Union collapsed. At least six people have been killed,
according to the prosecutor's office and medics, and the
crisis has deepened tension between Russia and the West.
For the opposition, accepting Yanukovich's offer to serve
under him in a revamped government carries the risk of
breaking faith with thousands of peaceful demonstrators, as
well as alienating more radical protesters over whom it has
only tenuous control.
"Yanukovich's offer always appeared as a poison chalice for
the opposition - meant to divide the opposition, and boost
his chances in the March 2015 presidential election," Tim Ash
of Standard Bank said.
In the latest violence on Sunday, a few thousand protesters
tried to storm an ornate cultural centre where hundreds of
security forces personnel were gathered in central Kiev, a
few hundred metres from the hub of weeks of opposition
protests on Independence Square.
In a two-hour pre-dawn confrontation, demonstrators threw
stones and smoke bombs while police fired stun grenades and
sprayed water into the crowd.
Police and security forces later left the building, its
windows shattered, and streamed out through a corridor
created by the crowd after an opposition leader, Vitaly
Klitschko, arrived at the scene and helped to negotiate a
The opposition planned to hold a prayer ceremony later on
Sunday for the protesters who have been killed. A coffin
bearing the body of one of them, Mykhailo Zhyznevsky, was
borne through the streets of Kiev before his burial, with
several hundred people marching behind.
Zhyznevsky, a Belarussian living in Ukraine, was one of three
people officially recognised by the prosecutor's office as
having died from gunshot wounds after clashes last week. He
would have been 26 on Sunday,
Yanukovich abruptly abandoned plans to sign political
association and free trade deals with the EU in November,
pledging instead to improve ties with former Soviet master
Russia and angering millions who dream of a European future.
The unrest has spilled over into other regions of the country
of 46 million people. Protesters have occupied municipal
headquarters in up to 10 places, many of them in western
Ukraine where opposition to Yanukovich's rule is strongest.
Hoping to end protests that threaten to bring the country to
a standstill, Yanukovich on Saturday offered former economy
minister Arseny Yatsenyuk the post of prime minister.
Klitschko, a former international boxing champion, was
offered the job of deputy prime minister responsible for
humanitarian issues, the presidential website said.
The presidency linked its offer to the opposition reining in
violent protesters. Though the protest movement is largely
peaceful, a hard core of radicals have been fighting pitched
battles with police away from Independence Square.
Opposition leaders said they would press their calls for
early elections and repeal of an anti-protest law.
"We are ready to take on this responsibility and take the
country into the European Union," Yatsenyuk was quoted as
telling crowds on Independence Square after emerging from
talks with Yanukovich. But he added that this would entail
the freeing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the
president's arch-opponent, who was jailed in 2011.
Klitschko told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag: "This was a
poisoned offer by Yanukovich to divide our protest movement.
We will keep on negotiating and continue to demand early
elections. The protest by Ukrainians against the corrupt
president must not have been in vain."
Opposition leaders say Yanukovich has betrayed Ukraine and
are calling for an election long before the next one is due
in spring 2015. Klitschko said it must be held this year.
The United States has warned Yanukovich that failure to ease
the standoff could have "consequences" for its relationship
with Ukraine. Germany, France and other Western governments
have also urged him to talk to the opposition.
"The situation is tense and serious. The days ahead will
determine which way Ukraine heads in the future. I believe
that there is only one piece of advice we can give: Ukraine's
path into the future cannot be found with the use of
violence, no matter which side it comes from," German Foreign
Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters on Sunday.
Pope Francis called for an end to the violence and for all
the parties to engage in "constructive dialogue".
Russia on Saturday stepped up its warnings against
international interference in Ukraine, telling European Union
officials to prevent outside meddling and cautioning the
United States against inflammatory statements. President
Vladimir Putin is due to visit Brussels on Tuesday for what
promises to be a tense EU-Russia summit.