MOSCOW – Ukraine's president struck a conciliatory tone Wednesday with opponents of his government, offering dialogue after security forces earlier in the day unsuccessfully tried to clear protesters from the capital's Independence Square.
"I invite representatives of all political forces, priests, public figures to hold the nationwide dialogue," President Viktor Yanukovich said in televised remarks, adding that he would personally participate in the consultations. "In order to achieve compromise, I urge the opposition not to refuse, not to choose the path of confrontation and ultimatums.
"I assure that the government will act exclusively in the framework of the law and will never use force against peaceful rallies," he said.
Yanukovich has faced weeks of demonstrations and calls for his ouster since late last month when he came away empty-handed from talks on a deal that would have drawn the country politically and economically closer to Western Europe. His government faces pressure from Russia, its key ally and the source of much of Ukraine's energy supplies, to not sign the deal with the European Union.
The protests have become the worst political crisis in Ukraine since the 2004 Orange Revolution.
Earlier Wednesday, several thousand riot police and interior troops armed with clubs and shields attempted to drive out protesters in downtown Kiev. They were followed by municipal workers and Emergency Ministry employees equipped with with chainsaws and welding equipment to dismantle barricades and opposition tents nearby.
The operation, which came despite a pledge by police command the day before not to use force against the rallies, drew additional protesters from around the city as the crowd in the square refused to yield. By daylight, the clashes subsided and riot police took positions in neighboring streets and yards.
The Health Ministry reported that 467 people had sought medical treatment. Dozens of police reportedly suffered mild injuries.
Opposition leaders rejected calls to negotiate and vowed to draw hundreds of thousands more people into the streets.
"There can be no compromises with thugs and dictators," Vitali Klitschko, a world heavyweight boxing champion and an opposition leader, said in a statement published Wednesday on his party's official website. "Today question No. 1 is unquestionably the resignation of Yanukovich and his entire rotten administration."
The U.S. State Department called the overnight police operation disgusting and appealed for restraint.