Ukraine crisis: Opposition rejects offer of PM post

BBC's Steve Rosenberg: "One of the biggest countries in Europe is now in a state of siege"

Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk says protests will continue after he rejected President Viktor Yanukovych's offer to appoint him as prime minister of the country.

Mr Yatsenyuk said the opposition was generally ready to accept leadership, but several key demands must be met, including new elections.

Sunday has seen further demonstrations.

There were reports of protests in east Ukraine, and in Kiev thousands mourned a protester who was killed last week.

Crowds chanted "Hero!" as the open coffin of Mikhail Zhiznevsky, 25, was carried through the streets of the capital.

The president's proposal to the opposition came amid new efforts to end the deadly unrest.


Ukraine's opposition leaders have apparently interpreted President Viktor Yanukovych's latest offers of significant concessions, including top positions in the government, as a sign of weakness and are forging ahead with their campaign to unseat him.

Their plan may indeed work. But if it doesn't, it could spell disaster for them, their supporters and the country as a whole. Both sides are playing a game of attrition. Mr Yanukovych seems to be hoping that the longer the negotiations, parliament votes and other political manoeuvrings drag on - and this includes the political jockeying that would follow Arseniy Yatseniuk's becoming prime minister - the more air will escape the protest movement.

But the opposition, at least at the moment, does appear to have the upper hand. Their activists have taken their battle beyond Kiev to government offices in half of the country. And camps in central Kiev could only be dislodged after a brutal and bloody struggle.

It is also possible that Mr Yanukovych's recent proposals are not sincere. But if they are, it now looks as if he is prepared to forfeit everything - short of his actual presidency. The question is whether he could eventually give this up, or ultimately, with his back against the wall, he would fight back.

He offered the post of prime minister to Mr Yatsenyuk and the position of deputy PM to former boxer Vitali Klitschko following talks on Saturday.

But the BBC's David Stern, in Kiev, says the opposition - confident in its position - appears to have taken these offers as a sign of weakness on Mr Yanukovych's part, and is forging ahead with the campaign to unseat him.

There were reports of fresh unrest outside Kiev on Sunday - in the eastern city of Dnepropetrovsk and in Odessa in Crimea.

Protesters marched on regional administration buildings in both cities, Interfax reported.

'Not afraid'

Speaking to large crowds in central of Kiev late on Saturday, the opposition leaders repeated their demands.

"Viktor Yanukovych announced that the government wasn't ready to take the responsibility for the country and offered to the opposition to lead the government," said Mr Yatsenyuk.

"What is our response to this? We are not afraid of the responsibility for the destiny of Ukraine."

Later, in a tweet Mr Yatsenyuk said: "No deal @ua_yanukovych, we're finishing what we started. The people decide our leaders, not you."

The stand-off at a building used by police went on for several hours, as Duncan Crawford reports

The opposition is demanding that a free trade agreement with the European Union be signed and political prisoners be freed, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

They are also demanding early presidential elections. A vote is not due until 2015.

Mr Klitschko told the crowd that they would press ahead with their demands and that talks would continue.

"We are not turning back and we will keep discussing and trying to find a direction," he said.

Protester in Kiev The opposition has vowed to continue the protests until President Yanukovych agrees to early elections
Protesters create a corridor at a building"s entrance presumably for police to leave after an attack in central Kiev, Ukraine, 25 January Protesters created a corridor to allow police to leave Ukrainian House overnight
Crowds chanted "Hero!" as the open coffin of Mikhail Zhiznevsky, 25, was carried through the streets of the capital. On Sunday, thousands turned up to pay respects to Mikhail Zhiznevsky, 25, who died of gunshot wounds last week
Protesters attack a government building in central Kiev, Ukraine, 26 January The activists then stormed the building, where the security forces had been based
Anti-government supporters gather on Independence Square following the talks between opposition leaders and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev on 25 January 2014. Maidan, or Independence Square, continues to be the main focus of the demonstrations
Petrol bombs

The demonstrations began in November after Ukraine decided not to sign an accord on more co-operation with the EU. Instead, the government opted to deepen ties with neighbouring Russia.

Key dates

21 Nov 2013: Ukraine announces it will not sign a deal aimed at strengthening ties with the EU

30 Nov: Riot police detain dozens of anti-government protesters in a violent crackdown in Kiev

17 Dec: Russia agrees to buy $15bn (£9.2bn, 11bn euros) of Ukrainian government bonds and slash the price of gas it sells to the country

22 Jan 2014: Two protesters die from bullet wounds during clashes with police in Kiev; protests spread across many cities

25 Jan: President Yanukovych offers senior jobs to the opposition, including that of prime minister, but these are rejected

Late on Saturday, hundred of protesters surrounded Ukrainian House, a cultural centre in Kiev defended by riot police. Petrol bombs and fireworks were thrown inside.

But the officers were able to leave the building early on Sunday. Mr Klitscho had negotiated their safe passage, local media reported.

Mr Yatsenyuk is the parliamentary leader of the country's second biggest party, Fatherland, and an ally of Ms Tymoshenko. Mr Klitschko is the leader of the Udar (Punch) party.

The crisis in Ukraine escalated this week when two activists were killed, and another was found dead with torture marks in a forest near the capital.

A fourth, 45-year-old protester is said to have died in a Kiev hospital on Saturday from injuries sustained in earlier violence.

Although the protest movement - the EuroMaidan - is largely peaceful, a hardcore of radicals have been fighting battles with police away from the main protest camp in Maidan, or Independence Square.

On Friday protesters seized a number of government buildings in Ukrainian cities outside Kiev, particularly in the west, which has traditionally favoured closer ties with Europe, including in the cities of Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lutsk and Lviv.

On Saturday the protests spread to cities further east, including Vinnytsya, just west of Kiev.

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