Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Ukraine’s capital to protest President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an association pact with the EU. The bloc says “work” on the deal has now been put “on hold.”
A smaller group of Yanukovych supporters – put at 15,000 – gathered a kilometer (0.6 miles) away in Kyiv’s Marinnsky park where dozens of army tents had been set up. Many had been bussed in from Donetsk and other cities in eastern Ukraine.
The protests came as EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule announced on Twitter that the 28-nation bloc had suspended talks with Ukraine over the deal, which were resumed in light of the protests earlier this week.
In a short text message he said efforts to complete the association agreement were “on hold” because of a mismatch between the “words and deeds” of the Ukrainian president and his government.
“Ukraine: Words and deeds of President and government regarding Agreement further and further apart,” Fuele tweeted.
“EU officials told Ukraine that further discussions required a ‘clear commitment’ [to] sign [but] Work on hold, had no answer.”
“Their arguments have no grounds in reality,” Fuele said.
Ukraine has requested a 20-billion-euro ($27.5-billion) loan from the European Union before it signs an agreement.
In the meantime, Yanukovych is set to visit Russia’s leadership on Tuesday. The president has effectively been involved in a tug-of-war between the West and Russia, which has been pressuring Kyiv to join a Moscow-led customs union, which also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Ukraine’s destiny ‘lies in Europe’
US Republican Senator John McCain was in Kyiv on Sunday, where he reassured anti-government protesters of continued US backing.
“We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe,” said McCain, a leading Republican voice on US foreign policy.
Late Saturday McCain spoke with Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara and opposition politicians. They included boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the head of the party of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Klitscho urged “all Ukrainians” to go to Kyiv’s central square on Sunday, where protestors have camped for three weeks, to “voice their aspirations to live in a modern European country.”
Meanwhile Tymoshenko’s party said McCain had raised “the possibility of bringing in personal sanctions against senior officials in Yanukovych’s regime.”
In an effort to appease the protest movement on Saturday, Yanukovych suspended Kyiv’s mayor and deputy head of his security council in response to a police crackdown on a protestors’ camp on November 30.
ccp/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)