KIEV, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich warned his opponents on Wednesday that he could deploy force against them after what he called their attempt to "seize power" by means of "arson and murder".
In a statement posted online in the early hours as hardline demonstrators fought riot police in central Kiev, Yanukovich stressed he had refrained from violence since unrest began and had persistently offered dialogue and possible elections. But he said he was being pressed by advisers to take a harder line.
"Without any mandate from the people, illegally and in breach of the constitution of Ukraine, these politicians - if I may use that term - have resorted to pogroms, arson and murder to try to seize power," the president said.
"I call once again on the opposition leaders ... to quickly distance themselves from those radical forces who are provoking bloodshed and clashes with police. Or, if they do not want to do this, they should recognise that they are supporting the radicals. And then there will be a different sort of conversation with them.
"Speaking frankly, I have advisers who are trying to turn me towards harsh options, to the use of force. But I have always considered the use of force a mistake. There are better and more effective means - finding a common language.
"I have persistently called for people to refrain from radical actions. But they have not listened.
"I repeat: It is still not too late to listen to each other. It is still not too late to stop the conflict."
He repeated his willingness to organise new elections and to heed the result if the opposition won. But he said the opposition had stuck to demands to take power immediately.
"They crossed a line when they called people to arms," he said. "And lawbreakers must be brought before the court, which will determine their punishment. That is not my personal whim, it is my duty as the guarantor of the constitution." (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Richard Balmforth)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.