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Ukrainian opposition defiant despite offer

KIEV -- The Ukrainian opposition vowed to press on with protests Sunday despite an offer of top posts made by President Viktor Yanukovych, as protesters seized another official building in the capital.

Thousands of protesters, some clutching baseball bats and wearing gas masks, were again starting to fill the center of Kiev for new protests as tensions showed no sign of ending in the deadly crisis gripping the country.

Two months after the protests began over Yanukovych's decision to back out of a European Union pact, the president offered on Saturday to share leadership with opposition figures Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister and Vitali Klitschko as deputy prime minister in a dramatic compromise bid.

Opposition leaders said they would continue negotiations until other demands are met, in particular that presidential elections due in 2015 be brought forward to this year.

One week after clashes first erupted between the opposition and police, protesters scored another victory by taking control of Ukrainian House, a Stalin-era exhibition hall near the protest zone, ousting about 200 interior ministry troops using it as a base.

Special forces were allowed to exit through a side entrance early Sunday to cries of “Shame!” from protesters, after an overnight siege in which protesters threw Molotov cocktails as security forces responded with stun grenades.

The interior ministry said it had given an order to “withdraw the reserve unit” and essentially accused protesters of attempting to take the troops hostage.

“The goal of the protesters was taking the security forces captive and exchanging them for arrested or detained activists,” it said.

Protest leaders said the building would now be used as a “press center” and an additional place to feed and warm protesters.

They said exhibits stored there from the collection of Kiev's history museum would not be touched, the Interfax news agency reported.

Officials say three people have been killed in the escalating protests in Kiev, raising fears of a wider civil conflict as protests have spread to outlying regions of Ukraine — the former Soviet republic's worst crisis since independence in 1991.

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Barricades are seen during a clash between protesters and riot police in central Kiev, Ukraine on Saturday, Jan. 25. The Ukrainian opposition vowed to press on with protests Sunday despite an offer of top posts made by President Viktor Yanukovych, as protesters seized another official building in the capital. (AP)

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