Ukraine protests spread beyond Kiev amid crisis talks

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Media captionDaniel Sandford in Kiev: ''Nobody knows how long [Kiev's truce] will hold''

Violent protests in Ukraine have spread beyond the capital, Kiev, as President Viktor Yanukovych held crisis talks with three key opposition leaders.

Protesters stormed the governor's offices in Lviv, and there were rallies in at least five more western cities.

One opposition leader was upbeat after the crisis talks, saying there was a "high chance" of a solution.

Two people died in clashes in Kiev on Wednesday, the first deaths in two months of protests over EU links.

The anti-government protests flared in late November over Mr Yanukovych's decision to pull out of a landmark treaty with the European Union.

A fragile truce is currently being observed in Kiev.

An opposition ultimatum was set to expire after the talks with Mr Yanukovych.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Protesters storm the governor's offices in Lviv
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Protesters gathered again in Kiev on Thursday evening

However, one of the opposition leaders at the meeting, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said: "We had the task of halting the bloodshed. The chance [of this] is very high."

Ahead of the talks, Mr Yanukovych asked the speaker of parliament to hold an emergency session next week to discuss the crisis.

But he told the head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, that he would not introduce a state of emergency.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who is in Davos in Switzerland, echoed this, but added: "People should not think that the government lacks available resources to put an end to this. It is our constitutional right and obligation to restore order in the country."

The US meanwhile said Vice-President Joe Biden had called Mr Yanukovych to urge a peaceful end to the crisis.

'Coup d'etat'

The pro-EU opposition has significant support in Ukraine's western regions.

In Lviv, hundreds of protesters stormed the regional governor's office.

They forced Oleg Salo to sign his resignation on a piece of paper. "I ask to be freed of my duties," it read.

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Media captionBBC journalist: "I saw a body right beneath the window"

Mr Salo, appointed by Mr Yanukovych, later said he had acted under duress and the resignation was invalid.

Ukrainian media said that protesters had also taken over the regional state administration building in Rivne.

Other reports spoke of attacks on the governor's offices in Zhytomyr, Vinnytsya, Khmelnytskiy and Ivano-Frankivsk.

On his presidential website, Mr Yanukovych said he had asked the speaker of parliament to hold an emergency session next week.

"The situation demands immediate settlement," Mr Yanukovych said.

The speaker said the session would discuss opposition calls for the government to step down and recently-passed anti-protest laws.

Body in forest

Before heading to his talks with Mr Yanukovych, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged both the protesters and police in Kiev to refrain from any further use of force until he reported back on Thursday evening.

His main demands were: a snap presidential election, the cancellation of the new anti-protest laws and the resignation of the government.

Addressing protesters on Wednesday, he said the president could end the stand-off "without bloodshed". Otherwise, he added, "we will go on the attack".

Mr Azarov said opposition leaders should be "more humble" and "move away from the language of ultimatums".

Russian news agencies quoted him as saying that "a genuine attempt at a coup d'etat is being carried out".

The centre of the capital remains extremely tense, the BBC's Daniel Sandford reports.

Hundreds of protesters and scores of police officers have been injured in clashes around Kiev's Independence Square this week.

Officials confirmed two bodies were found with bullet wounds close to the scene of clashes on Wednesday.

One of those killed was identified as Serhiy Nihoyan, the 20-year-old son of Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh, who travelled from his home in eastern Ukraine in December to join the protests.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A burnt barricade in Kiev

The other man shot was named as Belarusian citizen Mikhail Zhyznewski, who was at the protest with Una-Unso, a Ukrainian far-right group.

Mr Azarov denied that police were responsible for the deaths, saying they were not carrying live ammunition.

A third activist, Yuriy Verbytsky, has been found dead in a forest outside Kiev, after reportedly being abducted this week. His body is said to bear signs of torture.

On Thursday, the interior ministry apologised after video footage showed a protester being stripped naked and forced to stand in the snow as police took photos of him.

The man is then struck on the back of the head by a policeman.

The ministry apologised for the "unacceptable actions of the people in police uniform".

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