Ukraine protesters
Anti-government protesters are seen through a burnt vehicle at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev January 25, 2014. Photo by Reuters
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Reuters
Anti-government protesters are seen through a burnt vehicle at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev January 25, 2014. Photo by Reuters

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych offered two opposition leaders top government posts on Saturday, the presidential website said, after the two sides met for talks aimed at seeking an end to a violent political crisis.

Former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk would be offered the post of prime minister and Vitaly Klitschko, an internationally known boxer, would be proposed as deputy prime minister responsible for humanitarian issues, the website said.

If Yatsenyuk accepts the post of prime minister the president would be ready to accept the resignation of the government of Mykola Azarov, the website said.

The prime minister's job is the country's No. 2 political position.

There was no immediate reaction from the opposition leaders, who have been calling for the dismissal of Azarov's government since unrest broke out in Kiev two months ago.

It was likely that after Saturday night's talks they would return to thousands of supporters massed on Kiev's Independence Square to report on their discussions with Yanukovych.

The presidential website said Yanukovych had promised that those detained during the unrest would be dealt with leniently if the opposition reined in radical protesters who have clashed with police and if they persuade those who have been occupying public buildings to leave.

The opposition has demanded that Yanukovych himself step down and call early elections.

The head of Ukraine's police says protesters on Saturday released two officers they seized and tortured, but a protest leader called the claim a provocation aimed at justifying a crackdown.

Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, one of the government figures despised most by protesters, said the two officers were released with the help of negotiations by foreign embassies. He said they had been hospitalized, but did not give details of how they allegedly were abused.

Zakharchenko earlier said the officers were seized by volunteer security guards at the protest gatherings in Kiev. But the commandant of the corps, Mykhailo Blavatsky, told The Associated Press that no police had been seized.

"The authorities are looking for a pretext to break up the Maidan and creating all kinds of provocations," he said, referring to the main square of Kiev where around-the-clock protests have been going on for nearly two months. "Capturing a policeman would only give the authorities reason to go on the attack and we don't need that."

Zakharchenko's claim and an earlier statement that a third captured officer had been released and was in serious condition in a hospital raised fears that police were preparing to break up the protest.

"We will consider those who remain on the Maidan and in captured buildings to be extremist groups. In the event that danger arises, and radicals go into action, we will be obliged to use force," Zakharchenko said.

Demonstrations that started in late November to protest President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to shelve a long-awaited agreement to deepen ties with the European Union had been mostly peaceful until a week ago, when radical factions enraged by new laws to crack down on protests started violent clashes with police.

The clashes and the spread of unrest outside the capital suggest that the government could be losing control of much of the country.