Ukrainian President holds first meeting with Opposition leaders

Akhmetov,a multi-billionaire,is widely viewed as a close ally of Yanukovich.

Written by New York Times | Kiev | Published: December 14, 2013 1:11 am

The embattled president of Ukraine,Viktor F Yanukovich,held his first face-to-face meeting with opposition leaders on Friday,as a widespread civil uprising in the country entered its fourth week.

Yanukovich met with the protest organizers,a coalition of opposition leaders in Parliament,and the heads of civic organizations and student groups at Ukraine Palace,a cultural and arts arena in the capital.

The meeting began Friday afternoon as the struggle over Ukraine’s political and economic future intensified,and as the country’s richest man,Rinat Akhmetov,expressed support for demonstrators who have been rallying here since Yanukovich last month unexpectedly backed away from signing sweeping political and free trade accords with Europe.

Akhmetov,a multi-billionaire,is widely viewed as a close ally of Yanukovich.

His public statement calling for negotiations to settle the political crisis sent the clearest message yet that Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen,widely known as oligarchs,are unhappy with the instability and uncertainty in the country and want the government to offer a clearer picture of its intentions: to move toward Russia or try to revive the deals with Europe.

It was also highly unusual commentary on public affairs by a man who generally prefers to operate in the background,and the statement quickly drew the attention of Western diplomats who have been working to increase pressure on Yanukovich.

They are concerned that he will sign agreements in Russia next week with President Vladimir V Putin,which,for the moment at least,would close the door to European integration for Ukraine.

“The agreement was not signed in Vilnius,” Akhmetov said in his statement,referring to the Lithuanian capital,where the accords with Europe were to be signed at a conference. “And everybody asked a question: What happened? Did Ukraine take a pause? Did Ukraine stop? Or did Ukraine choose another road?”

“Everyone wants to have clarity,” he continued. Referring to Independence Square in Kiev,the main protest site,he said,“People started searching for answers to these questions and went to the Maidan.”

“The fact that peaceful people came to peaceful rallies indicates that Ukraine is a free and democratic country,” Akhmetov said. “And Ukraine will not swerve from this road. And it’s great. But the fact that people suffered in these days is unacceptable. I am confident that now it is a difficult moment for our country,and it is very important to have a cool head and a balanced approach. In short,common sense should win.”

Since refusing to sign the accords,Yanukovich has been in talks with Russia about economic assistance. He met with Putin last week in Sochi and is scheduled to see him again on December 17.

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