Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych offered amnesty for jailed protesters Friday during first talks with the opposition since mass protests broke out three weeks ago after the government failed to sign a proposed EU pact under pressure from Russia.
During the meeting, Yanukovych proposed an amnesty for all protesters facing criminal charges in the country’s wave of massive anti-government demonstrations.
“There should be an amnesty, in order to give guarantees that the process of confrontation will stop,” Yanukovych said.
There was no immediate reaction from the opposition figures in attendance, who included world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, nationalist leader Oleg Tyagnybok and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the head of the party of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
The opposition had said earlier that they were going to the meeting only to state their demands, including that the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resign and early parliamentary and presidential elections be held.
The talks came after Ukraine’s richest man and hugely influential powerbroker Rinat Akhmetov called on all parties to find a peaceful solution to Ukraine’s deepest political crisis in a decade.
The president also expressed frustration at the ongoing conflict.
“I am outraged by the radical actions on both sides ... from the side of provocateurs and from the side of the security forces, which have not always behaved properly,” he said.
Divided between Russia and the EU
The proposed amnesty could be a sizeable step toward resolving the conflict that has threatened Yanukovych’s leadership. The protests began after Yanukovych on Nov. 21 refused to sign an association deal with the 28-nation European Union, choosing instead to back closer ties with Russia.
Demonstrators have set up an extensive tent camp in the capital’s main square, where protesters gather around the clock. After squads of riot police deployed at the square early Tuesday, then withdrew hours later as demonstrators stood their ground, protesters’ spirits have been high. New barricades have been erected on streets leading to the square.
Yanukovych sent a delegation to Brussels on Thursday while at the same time preparing for a new meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In another possible sign of progress, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said the government wants to soon sign the agreement to deepen economic and political ties with the EU.
Yet this economically troubled nation of 46 million is deeply divided over the EU deal. Many people in eastern Ukraine, the country’s rural heartland, are against the protesters in Kiev and want the country to have closer economic ties with Russia.
Yanukovych can either sign a deal with the European Union that would put his ex-Soviet nation on track to eventually joining the bloc, or join a Moscow-led Customs Union, which Russia sees as a future alternative to the EU.
“I am ready to find a path that would give hope to the Ukrainian people that we are capable of overcoming such crises,” Yanukovych said.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)
Date created : 2013-12-13