Crackdown looms in Ukraine as president calls for talks with opposition
The crisis in the Ukraine may be headed for some kind of resolution - violent or otherwise. President Viktor Yanukovich has called for negotiations with the opposition while at the same time, deploying hundreds of troops in riot gear around the square where pro-European protestors have been gathering for a week.
In a statement on the presidential website, Mr Yanukovich's administration said on Monday he "supports" a proposal by Leonid Kravchuk, the former president, "to initiate the nationwide panel discussion with participation of both government and opposition in order to find compromise in the given situation."
Mr Kravchuk, who was Ukraine's first post-independence president, has proposed talks brokered by himself and the country's two other former presidents, Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko. Mr Yanukovich will meet his three predecessors for talks on Tuesday, the statement said.
The apparent breakthrough came as riot gear-equipped interior ministry troops formed cordons across streets leading to Independence Square, sparking rumours of an impending assault to clear Independence Square and surrounding streets that have been occupied by pro-European protesters since last weekend.
Three buses carrying about 100 interior troops in body armour and carrying metal riot shields arrived on Khreshyatik Street, Kiev's main shopping street, just before midday local time.
The atmosphere was tense as troops formed a cordon at an opposition barricade just 100 metres from Kiev City Hall, which has been occupied by anti-government protesters since last Sunday.
Opposition activists rushed to evacuate the mayor's office as the cry went up that the police had arrived, while other volunteers went to man home-made barricades inside the building.
Ruling party MPs have said that "reasonable force" may be used to clear the occupied building.
Activists quickly reinforced their own barricade with park benches, while volunteers in workmens' hard-hats and carrying wooden poles formed up at the main barricade on the Western side of Independence Square, about 500 meters up the road, in anticipation of a police assault.
Just after 1pm an opposition-controlled Twitter feed reported that the square was surrounded on all sides. The metro station on the square has been closed.
But the riot troops had made no move to clear the square as of early afternoon, lending strength to rumours that the show of force is a pre-talks bluff.
The protestors want the Ukraine to stay on course for European integration. But there is a sizable segment of the population - mostly ethnic Russians - who feel the tug of Mother Russia and support the president's plan to move closer to Moscow.
Negotiations will be touchy and it's hard to see how the two sides can reconcile their differences. More likely, the government will crack down on the protestors and end the crisis that way.