Under-fire Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych has said he is willing to re-ignite talks on a trade and political agreement with the European Union. He has stressed, however, that the price must be right before signing.
In another sign mass protests are beginning to make an impact in Ukraine, Yanukovych on Tuesday asked the prosecutor-general to release some of the demonstrators arrested for their part in mass protests against the government's decision to shelve EU talks.
Yanukovych's refusal to walk away from the deal in November has sparked three weeks of protests, with hundreds of thousands in the capital Kyiv alone showing their support for a move towards European Union membership.
The president has become increasingly under pressure, with both jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko - the former heavyweight boxing world champion - vocal in their criticism of his leadership. Yanukovych has called for a round-table discussion between opposition leaders and former presidents, but Klitschko said he would only attend if early elections were offered.
In a televised meeting with three former Ukraine presidents, Yanukovych said a deal between Ukraine and the EU could still be signed in March, but only if better financial terms were offered. He said the country stood to lose billions in trade with Russia - regarded as a key agent in the breakdown of talks - if an EU deal was signed.
"We want to achieve conditions that satisfy Ukraine, Ukrainian producers, the Ukrainian people," he said in the meeting. "If we find understanding and if such compromises are reached, the signature will be put [on paper]."
He stressed financial concerns were at the heart of the matter: "Any reforms require funding. When there is not enough funding, the reforms are slowed down."
Following the meeting, Yanukovych had discussions with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton after her arrival in Kyiv. Ashton's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said on Twitter it had been a "substantial meeting [with] President Yanukovych, all relevant issues discussed." She added the talks went for three-and-a-half hours.
How much Yanukovych's words appease the protestors, around 2,000 of who are part of a tent protest in Kyiv's Independence Square, remains to be seen. Many have returned after riot police moved in on Monday to break up the protest and remove barricades demonstrators had set up.
A number of people were injured in clashes between riot police and protestors, though it was believed not to be on the scale of the violent crackdown last week which led to even bigger demonstrations.
Yanukovych said he would request the release of some protestors arrested - ones who had not committed serious crimes and who had children or families: "Certainly, such people will be released."
Also on Monday, the offices of Tymoschenko's Fatherland Party were raided by law enforcement officers, with several computers reportedly confiscated.
ph/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)
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