* Yanukovich offers prime minister's post to opposition
* Wants end to street violence and occupations
* Opposition presses for early elections, repeal of
By Richard Balmforth and Jack Stubbs
KIEV, Jan 25 Ukrainian President Viktor
Yanukovich offered the opposition several top government posts
on Saturday, hoping to coax his opponents into ending protests
that threaten to bring the country to a standstill.
But opposition leaders, whose power base is among thousands
of protesters massing in Kiev's city centre, continued to press
for further concessions, including early elections and the
repeal of an anti-protest law.
After meeting opposition leaders, Yanukovich offered former
economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk the post of prime minister to
replace Mykola Azarov, whose government would be expected to
resign, the presidential website said.
Vitaly Klitschko, a former international boxing champion,
would be appointed deputy prime minister responsible for
humanitarian issues, it added.
The presidency linked its offer to the opposition reining in
violent protesters and quoted Yanukovich as promising that those
detained during the unrest would be dealt with leniently.
It said Yatsenyuk could be given the job of heading the
government of Mykola Azarov. Yatsenyuk, meanwhile, was quoted as
saying the opposition was ready to "lead the country."
But Klitschko later 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
"The protest by Ukrainians against the corrupt president
must not have been in vain," Klitschko was quoted as saying.
The opposition has been calling for the dismissal of Mykola
Azarov's government since unrest broke out two months ago after
Yanukovich rejected a trade deal with the European Union in
favour of closer ties with Russia.
Thousands were massed on Saturday night on Kiev's
Independence Square to report on their discussions with
In the past week, more radical protesters have violently
clashed with police about a half mile away (1 km) in front of
the Dynamo Kiev football stadium.
The presidential website said Yanukovich had promised that
those detained during the unrest would be dealt with leniently
if the opposition reined in the radical protesters and if they
persuade those who have been occupying public buildings to
Ukraine's interior minister had said that all those who
occupied public buildings and stayed on Independence Square -
the crucible of the protest where hundreds camp overnight -
would be considered by police to be "extremist groups."
Police would use force against those who went over to the
side of the radical protesters, who have clashed with police in
front of the football stadium since last Sunday, the minister,
Vitaly Zakharchenko, said in a statement.
The overnight violence near the stadium left fires burning
and smoke billowing. Protesters kept up a drumbeat of sticks on
Though the violence petered out early on Saturday morning
after a negotiated truce, protesters nearby stormed into the
"There was an attempt to seize the building. About 100
people came, armed. I went to them and said that if they did not
peacefully leave the building, then the whole energy system of
Ukraine could collapse," Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky told
Reuters by telephone.
Stavytsky, who was shown on television angrily remonstrating
with a black-helmeted activist, added: "What is taking place is
a direct threat to the whole Ukrainian energy system."
Hundreds of activists had already occupied City Hall and the
Though the protest movement - known as the "EuroMaidan" - is
largely peaceful, a hard core of radicals have been fighting
pitched battles with police away from the main protest on
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.
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.
"I told (U.S. Secretary of State) John Kerry that it is very
important now not to interfere in the process and to avoid any
statements that will only heat up the situation," said Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"I hoped he heard me," he said, in an interview with the
Vesti v Subbotu state television news programme.