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Ukraine President backs talks with opposition

KIEV -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, facing mass street protests over his policy U-turn away from the European Union towards Russia, backed on Monday a call for talks involving the opposition to work out a compromise, his website said.

With pressure growing on a shaky economy, the website said Ukraine's first post-Soviet president, Leonid Kravchuk, had proposed an “all-national round-table” in which representatives of the authorities and opposition would take part.

“Viktor Yanukovich has supported this initiative. In his opinion, such a round-table can become a platform for mutual understanding,” the website said.

On Sunday, several hundred thousand people turned out on Kiev's Independence Square calling for the resignation of his government and early elections.

The rally, which ended with a granite statue to Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin being pulled down, followed talks on Friday between Yanukovich and Russian President Vladimir Putin. These raised opposition suspicions that Yanukovich might be readying to take Ukraine into a Moscow-led customs union.

As Yanukovich's statement on his website appeared, riot police took up position in streets near Independence Square where about a thousand protesters were still camped out and near Kiev's city hall, which is occupied by demonstrators.

After a court order was issued for the protesters to quit the building, police told those inside last week that they had four days to leave or be ejected.

The political turmoil is deepening Ukraine's economic crisis, with short-term interest rates jumping to one-year highs on Monday. Foreign currency reserves, which have fallen steadily as the central bank tries to prop up the hryvnia currency, also slid further last month.

The central bank reported on Friday that the reserves fell at the end of November to US$18.791 billion, from US$20.632 billion a month earlier.

One-week, one-month and three-month Ukrainian money market rates soared to their highest in a year. One-week rates rose to 16 percent, according to Reuters data, up from 7 percent on Friday, and 3.5 percent a week ago.

However, the hryvnia currency hit six-week highs in the spot market on Monday. “The central bank has been intervening but it is becoming more aggressive now,” said Ishitaa Sharma, emerging markets strategist at Citi.

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An anti-government protester beats the statue of Vladimir Lenin with a sledgehammer in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Dec. 8. Anti-government protesters have toppled the statue of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin in central Kiev amid huge protests gripping Ukraine.

(AP)

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