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Ukraine

Yanukovych hints at government reshuffle and other concessions

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has reportedly offered to reshuffle his government as mass protests continued in Kyiv. The move would be a major concession to the opposition.

News agency Interfax reported that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych told church leaders that key decisions would be made at a special session of parliament scheduled for next Tuesday.

"We will take a decision at this session," he said. "The president will sign a decree and we will reshuffle the government in order to find the best possible professional government team."

Ukrainian protests spread to other cities

The move could be a major step forward in the ongoing negotiations, which stalled Thursday evening, as the dismissal of the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov had been one of the main opposition demands during the two months of unrest.

"I will do all I can to stop this conflict, to stop violence," Yanukovych said at the meeting with religious leaders, adding that he would bring opposition leaders into an anti-crisis team which he would lead.

News agency AP also reported that the president had offered other concessions to the opposition movement, including amnesty for jailed activists and change to drastic anti-protest laws.

At least three protesters have been killed in clashes with police this week, with protesters seizing government buildings in several cities in the pro-Western part of Ukraine.

On Friday, Ukrainian protesters set up new barricades closer to the presidential administration building in Kyiv, after the talks late on Thursday produced no concrete result.

EU eyes on Ukraine

As demonstrations continued in Kyiv and protesters in western Ukraine occupied regional administration buildings across six regions on Friday, EU member states - among them Germany Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier - summoned the Ukrainian ambassadors.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters on Friday that the German government condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters.

"We have great sympathy for the vast majority of the demonstrators who are peacefully demanding their rights," Seibert said.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele met with Yanukovych on Friday evening, but did not issue a statement.

A delegation from the European Parliament is set to visit next week. Announcing the parliamentary visit, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton stressed the need for dialogue.

"I am convinced that, in light of the violent escalation of events, the EU has to reinforce the efforts in support of the political solution," Ashton said.

Activists first began to occupy Independence Square after Yanukovych opted out of an integration deal with the European Union, ostensibly under Russian pressure. The latest violence followed the passing of new laws placing curbs on free speech and introducing tough new anti-protest laws.

bk/kms (Reuters, AP)

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