By a show of hands, thousands of protesters who gathered in Kiev's Independence Square voted early Friday to continue their confrontation with the government until all their demands are met.
Of the initial demands set forth by the opposition leaders, Yanukovich agreed only to release about 100 protesters detained since Sunday, when the clashes began. In the proposed compromise, the sides also agreed not to attack each other.
Yanukovich also promised that the Supreme Rada, the national parliament, would convene for an urgent session next week to discuss canceling a number of controversial laws adopted last week that set off violent clashes between protesters and riot police, causing at least three deaths and leaving more than 250 injured on both sides.
The laws -- which limit freedoms of speech and assembly and establish punishment of up to 15 years in prison for participation in mass demonstrations -- were denounced by the opposition as authoritarian and antidemocratic.
The rest of the protesters' initial demands, which called for early presidential and parliamentary elections, the Cabinet's resignation and changes in the constitution in favor of a parliamentary republic with limited presidential powers, were rejected by Yanukovich on Thursday.
Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, whose resignation and prosecution were also among the opposition's key demands, asked the protesters to leave Grushevsky Street in downtown Kiev, the scene of violent confrontations in recent days, and promised not to attack them in nearby Independence Square, the opposition's tent camp for the last two months.
“If the protesters in Grushevsky Street accept this proposal and leave the danger zone, the police will not take any measures to pursue these people,” Zakharchenko said in a statement posted Friday morning on the Interior Ministry's website. “The police will not use force to sweep [the protest camp in] Independence Square.”
In response, the crowd in Independence Square voted to expand the protest zone to European Square and part of Grushevsky Street, where protesters were still burning hundreds of tires to separate themselves from riot police and obstruct the vision of police snipers shooting at them with rubber bullets.
At least two deaths in recent days were caused by gunshot wounds, media reports said. A third victim, a 50-year-old protester from the western city of Lviv, was found dead Friday outside Kiev with signs of torture on his body. The opposition said the man had been kidnapped and tortured by police.
The Interior Ministry rejected the charge, saying the man had died of exposure and that authorities are investigating his death.
“There is a criminal group of about 200 men acting in Kiev under the guise of police that is committing crimes including kidnappings,” Kiev Police Chief Vitaly Yaryoma said in televised remarks.
The opposition leaders, who insisted on continuing talks with authorities, accepted the protesters' vote and stayed in Independence Square through Friday morning.
“We extend the territory of Independence Square to Grushevsky Street,” an opposition leader, Arseny Yatsenyuk, told the crowd after the vote. “But we will continue negotiations to press for real results, not just empty promises."
“The lives of each of us now depend on this decision,” another opposition leader, Oleg Tyagnybok, told the crowd. “We are continuing the struggle together with you on condition that we act like a united, disciplined army! Glory to Ukraine!” Thousands of voices in the crowd echoed with “Glory to the heroes!”
A few hours later, dozens of protesters broke the windows on the ground floor of the Agriculture Ministry next to Independence Square and captured the building, the UNIAN information agency reported.
Special correspondent Butenko reported from Kiev. Times staff writer Loiko reported from Moscow.