Ashton to visit Kyiv amid Ukraine’s anti-government protests

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60.000 people, according to the Ukrainian police. Thousands more according to unofficial sources. 

This bird’s eye view of Kyiv’s Independence square shows the anti-government rally held in the Ukrainian capital on Sunday, the biggest street protest since the Orange Revolution over 10 years ago.

Back then, massive demonstrations forced a re-run of the allegedly rigged presidential election. Today, thousands of Ukrainians are marching the streets of Kyiv in freezing temperatures demanding the resignation of President Yanukovich and his government.

The protests began shortly after Yanukovich failed to sign a landmark pact with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Moscow.

In Brussels, EU leaders are urging the Ukraine authorities to seek ‘a dialogue with their opponents’ and to respect ‘civil freedoms’.

‘Just yesterday I had a phone call – another one – with President Yanukovych. I asked him to show restraint in the face of these recent developments, to not use force against the people that are demonstrating peacefully, to respect fully the freedoms that are so important for all of us in Europe.’ said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Catherine Ashton, Europe’s foreign policy chief, is expected to visit Kyiv on Tuesday and Wednesday to help Ukraine find ‘a way out’ of the political crisis.
She will hold talks with government, opposition and civil society. But the Commission has refused to call the High Representative an ‘official mediator’ in the crisis.

‘It is not our role to be specific about actions taken on the ground, it is our role to support the freedom of the people of Ukraine that have expressed their european aspirations.’ said Commission’s spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen.

The EU’s executive has said that a free-trade deal with Ukraine is still possible. But Kyiv needs to accept the offer first, and then meet all the pre-conditions. The release of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, a political prisoner in the eyes of Europe, is one of them.

President Yanukovich will also meet Russian President Vladimir Putin next week.


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