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December 14, 2013

Ukraine talks give no indication crisis is over

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The meeting Friday of Ukraine's president and the leaders of mass protests against him was billed as a round table, but it was essentially a square-off.

The meeting, which also included Ukraine's three former presidents and an array of student, religious and union representatives, gave no indication that the crisis pitting President Viktor Yanukovych against vehement opposition was any closer to resolution after three weeks of demonstrations that have swelled to hundreds of thousands of people.

Yanukovych proposed that amnesty be granted to those who have been arrested in the protests and said the measure would be taken up by the parliament next week. But opposition leaders countered with demands that the government step down, and for early parliamentary and presidential elections to be held.

Reacting to the government resignation demand, Yanukovych pointed out that the opposition lost a parliamentary vote of no-confidence last week: "The vote already took place, and you saw it."

He also called for a moratorium on use of force by either side.

"The only thing the opposition heard was that there won't be a force scenario. Do I believe it? No," opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk said after the meeting.

The opposition also wasn't heartened by new official promises that Ukraine intends to sign a trade and political pact with the European Union. Yanukovych's refusal to sign the agreement last month set off the protests.

The Interior Ministry, which controls the country's police, said Friday that a preliminary investigation showed police violated the law in breaking up a demonstration on Nov. 30, but did not say if charges would be brought. The opposition has demanded that police be punished for violence.

The round table was an effort to find a way out of the 3-week-old crisis that threatens Yanukovych's leadership. But with the sides still far apart, Kiev was girding for huge demonstrations this weekend.

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