15 Dec 2013

EU suspends Ukraine trade agreement as rival rallies march

The European Union puts on hold work with Ukraine on a trade and cooperation agreement as large rival protest rallies mobilise in Kiev.

Anti-government rallies mobilise in Ukraine

The EU has said arguments being made by Kiev had “no grounds in reality” and a planned trade agreement is now on hold.

EU enlargement chief Stefan Fuele said on Twitter that he had told Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Serhiy Arbuzov, that further discussion on the trade agreement was conditional on a clear commitment by Kiev to sign it.

However, he has not heard back from the Ukraine government and as a result, work on the agreement was “on hold”, he said.

Kiev had been expected to sign the agreement at a summit last month, but Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich pulled out of the accord at the last minute in favour of closer ties with Moscow.

Brussels disputes Kiev’s assertion that it needs 20 billion euros of EU aid to offset the cost of adapting to the agreement.

Protest tensions

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians rallied in support of President Yanukovich in central Kiev on Saturday, with lines of riot police separating them from anti-government protesters who have camped out in the capital for weeks.

Opposition demonstrators have been camped out since 21 November in Independence Square, protesting Yanukovich’s last minute refusal to sign an agreement bringing Ukraine closer to the European Union, favouring stronger ties with Russia.

Today the opposition protesters are hoping to bring hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets to take part in a “Dignity Day” rally.

I am proud of the people of Ukraine and their steadfast efforts for democracy
John McCain

The weekly newspaper Zerkalo Tyzhnya warned on its front page: “The force option…looks to be more and more likely. The close proximity of the pro-authorities masses with the Euro-maidan makes organising provocation much easier.”

US Republican Senator John McCain arrived in Kiev on Saturday to begin talks at Ukraine’s foreign ministry and meet opposition representatives.

“I am proud of the people of Ukraine and their steadfast efforts for democracy,” McCain told reporters after meeting the country’s Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara.

He then met opposition leaders including; ex-boxing champion Vitaly Klitchko, former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnybog – who are calling for Yanukovich’s government to resign and for early elections.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has criticised EU politicians, such as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who visited protest sites in recent weeks.