Ukraine's beleaguered president has blamed the opposition for "escalating" the political crisis and announced that he was going on sick leave with an "acute respiratory ailment".
As thousands of demonstrators continued to occupy Kiev despite all his concessions, President Viktor Yanukovych was "officially registered as sick" with a "high temperature", according to a statement. It was unclear when the 63-year-old would return to his desk.
In a parting shot, the president declared in a written address that his government had done all it could to end the demonstrations and "fulfilled all its obligations".
Mr Yanukovych added: "However, the opposition continues to escalate the situation and urges people to stand in a frost for the sake of political ambitions of several leaders. I think that it is wrong." Critics suspect that Mr Yanukovych's illness is a device to relieve him of any further meetings with the opposition.
Meanwhile, in Kiev, a ceasefire is keeping an uneasy calm. But behind the barricades, the opposition is struggling to contain fighting within its own ranks, as radical elements challenge the authority of mainstream leaders. Tensions led to violence this week when 'self defence' volunteers loyal to Svoboda, a nationalist party involved in running the mainstream protest effort, evicted members of the radical Spilna Sprava group from an occupied government building.
Rubber bullets, fire hoses and baseball bats flew as the two groups of protesters battled for the agriculture ministry. At least six people were taken to hospital, according to the opposition.
The pro-European protest movement has become increasingly militarised since deadly battles with police broke out last week, and emboldened radical elements have begun to lose patience.
A Svoboda party deputy said that Wednesday's fighting broke out when Spilna Sprava refused to evacuate occupied government ministries as part of a proposed amnesty deal. In reality, the battle was the culmination of a long-running feud, and underscored the danger of rifts between the movement's factions.
At its core, the 'Euromaidan' movement is an alliance of three parties: Udar, led by Vitaly Klitschko, a boxer-turned-politician; Fatherland, headed by Aseniy Yatsenyuk, while Yulia Tymoshenko languishes in jail; and the right-wing Svoboda, led by Oleh Tyahnybok.
Besides leading negotiations, the three parties preside over a makeshift bureaucracy regulating everything from medical services to public relations and defence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)