Thursday 17 April 2014

Leaders of Ukraine and Russia meet

A police officer guards the Ukrainian Parliament as supporters of president Viktor Yanukovych stand in the background in Kiev (AP)

Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych has met with his Russian counterpart to discuss closer co-operation while protests continued in the capital over a decision to scrap a deal with the EU.

Mr Yanukovych met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Russian city of Sochi on his way back from a state visit to China.

Mr Yanukovych's office said the talks were about trade and economic co-operation and preparations for signing a partnership agreement.

No details were given, but the meeting is a challenge to leaders of the protests that broke out last month after Mr Yanukovych stepped back from signing a long-anticipated agreement to deepen economic and political ties with the European Union.

Moscow has been pressuring Ukraine to join a trade bloc including Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

After Mr Yanukovych backed out of signing the agreement, officials said Ukraine remained committed to deeper integration with the EU, a statement that opposition leaders met with derision.

"Their attempts to sell Ukraine to Russia have not ended in any way," said Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the main opposition party's faction in parliament.

A sizeable tent camp for protesters - including field kitchens for the long haul - has been set up on Kiev's main square.

Crowds of protesters swell nightly to several thousand. Other protesters have occupied the city administration building and have blocked access to the presidential administration building.

Another top opposition figure has said he was open to talking with officials to find a way out of the crisis, but only if the police who violently dispersed demonstrators are punished.

Oleh Tyanhybok, head of the nationalist Svobooda party, told reporters that "the opposition is ready to sit down, talk, negotiate change in the situation" to seek "an exit from the current political crisis".

His statement, however, appeared to be only an incremental move towards a resolution of the tensions. Police say the dispersal and beating of demonstrators came after provocations.

The protests began after Mr Yanukovych stepped back from the EU association agreement, but their intensity increased after the police violence.

Public opinion surveys in recent months showed around 45% of Ukrainians favour increased integration with the EU and far fewer support closer co-operation with Russia, which controlled or dominated Ukraine for centuries.

Press Association

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