Ukraine president mulls early elections

Opposition supporters in military uniforms and carrying sticks as weapons, line up in front of the city council building before marching in central Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

KIEV: Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych could call early elections if he cannot strike a deal with the opposition, a top lawmaker said on Tuesday ahead of a parliament session where protest leaders will press for concessions.

Yuriy Miroshnychenko, Yanukovych's personal representative in parliament, said the president has spoken at a meeting with lawmakers last week of "two possible scenarios" to end a two-month crisis.

"The first is the release of occupied buildings and an amnesty and the second is early elections. The amnesty is not working out," Miroshnychenko told AFP, referring to the release of detained protesters.

The opposition wants protesters freed unconditionally, while Yanukovych and his ruling Regions Party say this can only happen if occupied buildings including ministries and regional government offices are vacated within the next few days.

Miroshnychenko spoke just hours before the arrival of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and as parliament met to discuss opposition demands, including a constitutional overhaul to curb presidential powers.

On Monday Yanukovych blasted the mass protests against his rule as "extremism", as the European Union and United States discussed possible economic aid to help end the country's deep political crisis.

Returning to work after four days of sick leave on Monday, Yanukovych slammed the anti-government movement as "radicalism and incitement to hatred behind which there is a struggle for power".

He also appeared to link militants to Nazis, calling for "a community of wholesome people without the Nazism, racism and xenophobia that remind us of the terrible lessons of history" in his first public comments since Thursday.

The mass protests have set off sparks between Russia and the West and claimed the lives of at least two protesters and two policemen.

Thousands remain camped out on Kiev's Independence Square and in occupied buildings in the capital, refusing to leave until the president steps down.

Ashton's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the EU and its foreign partners were talking about "what we can do to help support the Ukrainian economy" but stressed any aid would be linked to political reforms or the naming of a new government.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the talks were "at a very preliminary stage".

"We are consulting with the EU... and other partners about the support Ukraine may need after a new technical government is formed as the country gets back on the path to economic health through the IMF," she said.

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk has asked for a "Marshall Plan" -- a reference to US aid for Europe after World War II to prevent the spread of Communism.

He said said the minimum required was the $15 billion (11 billion euros) that Russia has promised Ukraine in a bailout that is now on hold.

But EU diplomats played down the prospect of big funds.

"It'll be difficult to offer as much as the Russians," said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Ukraine's recession-hit economy is hugely dependent on Russia, and Moscow tightened the screws further on Monday by reminding Ukraine it owed $3.3 billion for energy supplies in 2013 and so far in 2014.

Even as it ups the pressure, Russia has accused the West of interference in the internal affairs of its former Soviet satellite, and has dismissed the protesters as extremists.

But the opposition says the authorities are the ones using heavy-handed tactics and says there is a "secret repression" in which activists are seized and beaten by pro-government vigilantes.

No fresh negotiations are scheduled between Yanukovych and the opposition, which has asked for "international mediation" in the talks.

Yanukovych has scrapped draconian anti-protest laws and the prime minister and the entire cabinet have resigned under opposition pressure but other demands remain unanswered.

An Internet survey by the TNS agency on Monday found that a majority were in favour of early presidential and parliamentary elections.

But it also showed up rifts in Ukrainian society.

Asked if the protests should continue, 48 percent said yes and 45.1 percent said no.





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