KIEV, Ukraine — Facing huge antigovernment demonstrations after spurning a deal with the European Union, Ukraine's embattled president sought Monday to quell public anger by moving to renew talks with the EU.
President Viktor Yanukovych struggled to reaffirm his grip on power as thousands of demonstrators besieged government buildings in Kiev, his party suffered defections and three cities in the west of the country openly defied the central government.
The protests were sparked by Yanukovych's decision to ditch the political association and free trade pact with the EU, followed by the violent dispersal of a small peaceful rally in Kiev over the weekend.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who strongly opposed the EU deal, denounced the protests in Kiev as "pogroms."
Opinion surveys conducted before the protests showed about 45 percent of Ukrainians supporting closer integration with the EU, with a third or less favoring closer ties with Russia. But the protests, and the police violence, appear to have unleashed anger against the government and tipped the balance more strongly in favor of integration with the EU.
Yanukovych called European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and asked to renew negotiations on signing the association agreement. He also said in an interview with Ukraine's main television channels that he remains committed to European integration, but would like to negotiate better terms for the fragile Ukrainian economy.
Yanukovych urged the opposition for calm and dialogue with the government. But his call fell flat with opposition leaders who were hoping to summon enough parliamentary votes today to oust the Cabinet led by Yanukovych's loyal supporter, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, and force an early presidential vote.
"We need to change the system. There must be a complete reloading of the leadership," world boxing champion turned opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told reporters.
It was unclear whether the opposition could muster the 226 votes it needs in the 450-seat Parliament to oust the Cabinet.