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Ukraine seeks way out of deadly crisis

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych met with the opposition Thursday for crunch talks in search of a way out of a deadly standoff with protesters that has turned parts of Kiev into a battle zone.

KIEV: Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych met with the opposition Thursday for crunch talks in search of a way out of a deadly standoff with protesters that has turned parts of Kiev into a battle zone.

After four hours of talks with Yanukovych the leader of the opposition Fatherland party, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said there is a "high" chance of finding a solution to end the bloodshed.

The opposition billed the talks at the presidential administration in Kiev as a last chance for the authorities to offer concessions before protesters become even more aggressive after five days of clashes.

The clashes, which came after two months of protests over Yanukovych's failure to sign an integration deal with the European Union under Russia pressure, led to near apocalyptic scenes in the Ukrainian capital as the demonstrations became engulfed in flames.

Yanukovych on Thursday demanded an extraordinary session of parliament to ease the crisis which has already seen four protesters shot dead and one killed in a fall, according to activists.

Speaker Volodymyr Rybak said parliament would meet to discuss the protesters' demands for the government's resignation and the annulment of a controversial anti-protest law at a session expected on Tuesday, the presidency said in a statement.

But he did not mention early presidential elections, a key opposition demand.

Yatsenyuk, nationalist leader Oleg Tyagnybok and world boxing champion and UDAR (Punch) party leader Vitali Klitschko began much-delayed talks with Yanukovych in the evening and they lasted four hours, the presidency said.

"We had the task of halting the bloodshed. The chance (of this) is very high," Yatsenyuk said after he emerged with the two other main opposition leaders from several hours of talks.

Klitschko had earlier brokered a truce in the violence between protesters and police for the duration of the talks.

"Keep the barricades in place but (be) calm until the talks finish," he said.

"We will fight to the end"

The protesters have marked their frontline with a semicircle of burning tyres which have sent a rancid plume of black smoke billowing into the Kiev sky and is visible throughout the city.

However under the terms of the truce, protesters allowed police to douse the fires with water cannon and now only white smoke was rising at the scene.

Both sides remained quietly behind their battle lines next to the stadium of the legendary Dynamo Kiev football club in central Kiev.

Protesters sought to reinforce their barricades by several metres by filling sandbags with snow, turning the protest zone around Independence Square into a virtual fortress.

"Every 10 metres there is Ukrainian territory that we have to defend and for which we will fight to the end," said one radical protester on the front line, who asked not to be named.

According to the interior ministry, 254 members of the riot police have been hurt in the clashes and 104 have been hospitalised.

Over the five days of clashes, 73 protesters have been arrested and 21 of them have already been ordered to stay in pre-trial detention.

Tensions have also spiralled outside Kiev and the governor of Ukraine's western Lviv region, Oleg Salo, signed his resignation on Thursday after anti-government protesters shouting "revolution" stormed his offices.

But he later said it was invalid and made under pressure and protesters vowed to occupy his offices overnight.

The success of the protest appeared to inspire similar attacks in staunchly nationalist western Ukraine, with protests at governors' offices in the regions of Ivano-Frankivsk and Rivne.

EU, Biden push for dialogue

The deadly violence horrified Ukrainians, who have never witnessed such scenes in their country including during the 2004 Orange Revolution which was almost entirely peaceful.

A member of Ukraine's elite Berkut riot police force assaulted and humiliated a naked protester after he was detained in freezing cold temperatures in Kiev, according to a video posted Thursday. The interior ministry apologised.

International concern grew, with US Vice President Joe Biden calling Yanukovych to press for a peaceful end to its deadly crisis, the White House said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Yanukovych Thursday and "made a pressing appeal to the president to start serious dialogue with the opposition and to reach concrete results," a statement said, while also urging the repeal of the anti-protest laws.

French President Francois Hollande Wednesday expressed serious concern over the increasing violence in Ukraine and urged the government to ensure the rule of law.

Senior diplomats from EU nations meanwhile rejected a call from fellow EU member Lithuania to impose sanctions against the Ukrainian government in reprisal for the violence, said an EU diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she will meet Yanukovych as well as opposition leaders in protest-hit Kiev next week.

Ukraine's former master Russia, which has regarded the country's pro-EU protest movement with suspicion from the start, has taken a different view and blamed the opposition and West for the clashes.

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