Ukraine’s interim cabinet has been presented at Kiev’s main protest camp, the Maidan.
The Maidan council named Arseniy Yatsenyuk to become prime minister.
Ukraine’s new government – to be voted on by parliament on Thursday – includes leading activists.
Daunting challenges lie ahead, including fixing Ukraine’s struggling economy which faces default.
Meanwhile, ousted President Viktor Yanukovych has been put on the international wanted list.
Viktor Yanukovych is accused of being behind last week’s deaths of more than 100 protesters at the hands of riot police in and around the Maidan.
The Maidan council named Arseniy Yatsenyuk to become prime minister
The Maidan council – made up of protester groups and activists – announced its nominations at a big gathering of protesters at the camp, which is spread over Kiev’s Independence Square.
The council proposed Fatherland Party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk to lead the cabinet until after early presidential elections on May 25.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk – a former speaker of parliament and foreign minister – has been one of the main opposition leaders during the protests which first erupted in late November.
It was agreed that acting Defense Minister Arsen Avakov would keep his post. Other nominations include:
The key foreign affairs ministry portfolio goes to Andriy Deshchytsia, who played a key role in rallying diplomats in support of the protests
Overall Maidan commander Andriy Parubiy – who commands huge respect among the protesters – was named candidate for secretary of the National Security and Defence Council
Tetyana Chornovol and Dmytro Bulatov – prominent activists who were badly beaten by unknown attackers earlier this year – are set to head the anti-corruption bureau and the ministry of youth and sports respectively. [youtube hW031-_eJSM 650]
New reports claim that at least 21 protesters have been killed by security forces in Kiev following the breakdown of a truce agreed on Wednesday.
According to eyewitnesses some died as a result of single gunshot wounds, typical of sniper fire.
Officials said that one policeman had died and that 67 police had been captured by protesters.
Meanwhile, three EU foreign ministers have held five hours of talks with President Viktor Yanukovych.
Eyewitnesses have told international news agencies that they have counted between 21 and 27 protesters’ bodies after clashes in Kiev.
Video footage has emerged apparently showing snipers firing on demonstrators who had been trying to retake their protest camp in Independence Square.
Officials said more than 20 policemen had also been injured.
Witnesses reported live rounds, petrol bombs and water cannon being used at Independence Square during this morning’s clashes.
An opposition Twitter feed posted an image of 13 bodies in a makeshift mortuary in the lobby of the Hotel Ukraine.
At least 21 protesters have been killed by security forces in Kiev following the breakdown of a truce agreed on Wednesday
The hotel is serving as the base for all foreign media in Kiev.
Earlier, several dozen protesters were using the lobby as a triage centre for the wounded.
Protesters – some of them armed – asked hotel guests for blankets to use as bandages.
A statement on the presidential website blames the opposition for starting the violence, saying the “calls for a truce and dialogue were nothing but a way of playing for time to mobilise and arm militants from Maidan [Independence Square]”.
Opposition leaders called the violence “an act of provocation” by the authorities.
The foreign ministers of France, Poland and Germany conducted five hours of discussions with Viktor Yanukovych, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius tweeted.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski tweeted that he would now stay in Kiev to meet opposition leaders to test a “proposed agreement”, although it was not clear what the details of the agreement were.
Other EU foreign ministers, along with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, have convened at an emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss possible sanctions.
They could include a possible ban on sales of equipment that might be used for internal repression.
Separately, the head of the Kiev city administration resigned from Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions.
Thursday had been declared a day of mourning for those killed in clashes on Tuesday.
President Vladimir Putin met his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics, officials say.
Neither side would confirm what was discussed during the informal conversation during the opening ceremony in the Russian city of Sochi.
Russia has frozen delivery of a $15 billion bailout program pending the formation of a new government in Kiev.
Mass anti-government protests erupted in Ukraine in late November.
Vladimir Putin met his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics
Under pressure from Moscow, Viktor Yanukovych had refused to sign a far-reaching association and trade agreement with the EU.
Amid continuing protests, Viktor Yanukovych has accepted the resignation of PM Mykola Azarov – widely seen as pro-Moscow – and a new prime minister has yet to be nominated.
The meeting between Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yanukovych in Sochi on Friday evening was confirmed by senior Russian and Ukrainian officials.
There was no information about what was discussed, but correspondents speculate it was likely to include the suspended Russian financial package – which Ukraine desperately needs in the face of a sliding currency, dwindling foreign reserves and rising borrowing costs.
Viktor Yanukovych’s meeting with Vladimir Putin follows talks in Kiev last Wednesday between Yanukovych and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
An apparently bugged phone conversation in which a senior US diplomat denigrates the EU over the Ukraine crisis has been posted online.
A female voice resembling that of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland refers to the EU using a swear word, in a conversation apparently with US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt.
The US said Victoria Nuland had “apologized for these reported comments”.
The EU and the US are involved in talks to end months of unrest in Ukraine.
Mass anti-government protests erupted in Ukraine in late November after President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign a far-reaching association and trade agreement with the EU – under heavy pressure from Moscow.
Russia has been widely accused of intervening in Ukraine, using its economic clout to persuade Viktor Yanukovych to abandon closer ties with Brussels.
Russia has itself accused Washington and the EU of meddling in Ukraine.
The alleged conversation between Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, appeared on YouTube on Thursday.
The 4 min 10sec video was entitled “Maidan’s puppets” in Russian – a reference to the square in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, where pro-EU protests have been held for months. A transcription of the whole conversation was also posted in Russian.
At one point, the female speaker mentions the UN and its possible role in trying to find a solution to the Ukraine stand-off.
She says: “So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it and you know…” she then uses the swear word about the EU.
Victoria Nuland joined Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on Maidan Square during her visit to Kiev in December
The male replies: “We’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it.”
The two officials also discuss frankly the merits of the three main Ukrainian opposition leaders – Vitaly Klitschko, Arseniy Yatseniuk and Oleh Tyahnybok.
The female speaker says that Vitaly Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing world champion, should not be in any new government.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
She adds: “I think Yats [Arseniy Yatseniuk] is the guy who’s got the economic experience.”
US officials refused to confirm or deny the tape’s authenticity, but state department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said: “I didn’t say it was inauthentic.”
Jennifer Psaki said Victoria Nuland had “been in contact with her EU counterparts and of course has apologized for these reported comments”.
She also played down the comments about Ukraine’s opposition, saying: “It shouldn’t be a surprise that at any points there have been discussions about recent events and offers and what is happening on the ground.”
Jennifer Psaki hinted that the tape could have been leaked by Moscow, pointing out that a senior Russian official was one of the first to draw attention to the audio.
She said: “We think this is a new low in Russian trade-craft. This is something they’ve been actively promoting, posting on, tweeting about.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney added: “I would say that since the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government, I think it says something about Russia’s role.”
Earlier on Thursday, a senior aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Washington of interfering in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.
Sergei Glazyev said the US was spending $20 million (14.8 million euros) a week on Ukrainian opposition groups, supplying “rebels” with arms among other things.
And he suggested that Moscow could also intervene.
Viktor Yanukovych held talks in Kiev with Victoria Nuland on Thursday, at which he said he favored dialogue and compromise with the opposition.
The Ukrainian leader is to meet Vladimir Putin on Friday on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Ukraine’s parliament is continuing crisis talks to try to change the constitution – a move aimed at curtailing the powers of President Viktor Yanukovych.
This is a key demand by the opposition, who has warned that parliament’s failure to act now will further inflame mass anti-government protests.
Pro-presidential MPs oppose the move, and the speaker has given until Wednesday morning to find a compromise.
Kiev’s decision to reject an EU deal in November triggered the protests.
At least six people have died in violence since then, and a number of Ukrainian politicians have warned that the country might plunge into civil war.
The opposition is pushing for a return to the 2004 constitution, which would mean President Viktor Yanukovych losing some of the powers he has gained since his election in 2010.
The changes envisage that parliament – not the president – will be appointing the prime minister and cabinet members as well as regional governors.
Ukraine’s opposition MPs seek to curb president’s powers
There were emotional scenes earlier on Tuesday and MPs began debating the issue.
“I call on everyone to take the constitutional route and stop dictatorship,” the leader of the opposition Udar (Punch) Party and former world heavyweight boxing champion, Vitaliy Klitschko, told parliament.
“Let us reinstate the constitution that allows MPs to take decisions instead of just pushing buttons.”
Vitaliy Klitschko also stressed that snap presidential elections were crucial to regain the trust of the people.
But the leader of President Viktor Yanukovych’s Regions Party in parliament, Oleksandr Yefremov, accused the opposition of being irresponsible.
“They [opposition leaders] are fighting not for what people want, but for power,” he said in a speech delivered amid shouting.
“Ukraine is going through perhaps the most dramatic period in its recent history. Any further escalation of the conflict may lead to civil confrontation and result in catastrophic consequences,” he added.
At one point during the proceedings, some opposition MPs shouted “murderers!”.
They were referring to the death of protesters over recent weeks as anti-government activists clashed with riot police.
Protesters blame the government for the deaths, but officials reject these accusations.
Later on Tuesday, the speaker of parliament, Volodymyr Rybak, gave lawmakers until 10:00 local time on Wednesday to try to find a compromise on the constitutional changes.
Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych has taken sick leave amid violent protests in the country.
The presidential website said 63-year-old Viktor Yanukovych had a respiratory illness and a high fever.
The protests began in November after Viktor Yanukovych reversed a decision to sign a trade deal with the European Union, instead favoring a bailout deal with Russia to underpin Ukraine’s ailing economy.
Anti-government protesters demanding the president’s resignation are still occupying government buildings and manning barricades in freezing temperatures in the centre of the capital.
The past week has seen President Yanukovych accept the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet, and offer senior jobs to the opposition – offers that were rejected.
Ukraine’s parliament has also voted to annul a recently enacted law restricting protests – which appeared to be inflaming the situation – and passed a law giving amnesty to detained protesters, under the condition that occupied buildings were vacated.
Viktor Yanukovych had a respiratory illness and a high fever
Some opposition figures expressed skepticism about Viktor Yanukovych’s reported illness, saying he might be trying to buy time after being forced into concessions in an attempt to calm unrest on the streets.
“This smacks of a diplomatic illness,” Rostislav Pavlenko, a member of boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko’s Udar (Punch) party, told Reuters news agency.
“It allows Yanukovych not to sign laws, not to meet the opposition, absent himself from decisions to solve the political crisis.”
Mykhailo Chechetov, from Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, said the president had told supporters in parliament on Wednesday night that he had come to support the passage of the amnesty bill directly from hospital.
“He looked ill,” Mykhailo Chechetov added.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is in Kiev for talks with both sides. On Wednesday she said she was “shocked” by the violence in the capital and across the country in recent weeks that has left several protesters and police officers dead.
Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine’s first post-independence president, has warned the country is on the “brink of civil War” as parliament debates an amnesty for protesters.
Leonid Kravchuk, president from 1991 to 1994, opened the debate in parliament by urging everyone involved to “act with the greatest responsibility”.
President Viktor Yanukovych wants any amnesty conditional on demonstrators leaving official buildings.
The opposition has so far ruled this out and is demanding early elections.
On Tuesday, PM Mykola Azarov and his cabinet resigned after months of protests.
Parliament also scrapped a controversial anti-protest law in the biggest concession yet to opposition protesters.
Leonid Kravchuk earned a standing ovation in parliament after telling members that “all the world acknowledges and Ukraine acknowledges that the state is on the brink of civil war”.
“It is a revolution. It is a dramatic situation in which we must act with the greatest responsibility,” he said.
Demonstrations began in November when President Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of a planned trade deal with the EU in favor of a $15 billion bailout from Russia to bolster ailing public finances in the former Soviet state.
President Viktor Yanukovych wants any amnesty conditional on demonstrators leaving official buildings
The White House on Tuesday said the issue of a possible amnesty for scores of detained protesters had been raised in a telephone conversation between Vice-President Joe Biden and President Viktor Yanukovych.
The White House said Joe Biden welcomed “progress made” and called on Viktor Yanukovych to sign the repeal of several anti-protest laws.
On Tuesday, PM Mykola Azarov said he was stepping down to create “social and political compromise”. His deputy, Serhiy Arbuzov, has stepped in as interim leader.
Members of his cabinet also resigned, but they can remain in their posts for 60 days until a new government is formed.
Parliament, in an emergency debate on Tuesday, voted to repeal anti-protest legislation, which among other measures banned the wearing of helmets by protesters and the blockading of public buildings.
Correspondents say Mykola Azarov was deeply unpopular with the opposition, who accused him of mismanaging the economy and failing to tackle corruption.
Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has criticized what he called foreign “interference” in Ukraine.
Speaking at the end of an EU-Russia summit in Brussels on Tuesday, Vladimir Putin said visits by overseas envoys were adding to the unrest.
“I think that the Ukrainian people are capable of solving this on their own,” he said.
“I can only imagine how our European partners would respond if in the heat of a crisis in a country like Greece or Cyprus, our foreign minister would appear at one of their anti-European rallies and begin addressing them.”
Correspondents say Vladimir Putin’s comments appear to be a thinly veiled criticism of the EU and other Western nations that have sent a string of diplomats to Ukraine in recent weeks.
Ukraine’s Justice Minister Olena Lukash has warned anti-government protesters occupying her ministry she will call for a state of emergency if they do not leave.
Olena Lukash told local media she would ask the National Security and Defense Council to introduce the measures.
Protesters seized the building in Kiev late on Sunday and set up barricades outside with bags of snow.
Unrest is spreading across Ukraine, with activists taking over municipal buildings in several towns and cities.
Buildings have come under attack even in eastern areas, which have traditionally had closer ties with Russia and where President Viktor Yanukovych has enjoyed strong support.
The crisis was sparked by the president’s decision not to sign a deal with the European Union, and has escalated with the deaths of four activists in recent days.
Correspondents say protesters entered the justice ministry building in the capital without resistance.
Unrest is spreading across Ukraine, with activists taking over municipal buildings in several towns and cities
“The seizure of the Ministry of Justice is a symbolic act of the people of the uprising. Now, these authorities are stripped of justice,” one protester told reporters.
But Olena Lukash told Inter TV channel: “If the protesters do not leave the justice ministry building… I will ask the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine to impose the state of emergency.”
The minister is an ally of President Viktor Yanukovych and involved in the ongoing negotiations between the government and protest leaders.
She said she would be “forced to turn to the Ukrainian president with a request to stop the negotiations unless the justice ministry building is vacated without delay and the negotiators are given a chance to find a peaceful solution to the conflict”.
Last week, the parliament of the Crimean Autonomous Republic – seen as a staunch supporter of Viktor Yanukovych – also urged the president to declare a state of emergency.
The government has previously insisted it would not resort to the army, a measure our correspondent says would likely further antagonize the protesters and worsen the violence.
The parliament is due to meet for an extraordinary session on Tuesday, but the speaker has previously said a state of emergency will not be under discussion.
Large crowds of pro-EU demonstrators rallying against new laws which aim to curb public protests in Ukraine have clashed with police in Kiev.
Stun grenades and flares were thrown as groups of people headed for parliament, which was cordoned off by rows of police and buses.
Opposition politician Vitali Klitschko tried to stop attacks on police.
The laws were passed with a quick show of hands on Thursday by MPs loyal to President Viktor Yanukovych.
The opposition accused the ruling party of a coup.
US and EU officials have expressed deep concern at the new legislation.
Ukraine’s current anti-government movement began in protest at Viktor Yanukovych’s decision in late November to pull out of a landmark treaty with the EU, but has expanded to demand his resignation.
Large crowds of pro-EU demonstrators rallying against new laws which aim to curb public protests in Ukraine have clashed with police in Kiev
Sunday’s rally in Kiev, attended by tens of thousands, heard calls from opposition politicians to disregard the new laws curbing protests that pro-EU demonstrators have been staging for the past two months.
Clashes erupted as some people headed away from the main square towards parliament, encountering cordons set up by police. Live TV pictures showed them attempting to overturn a bus used by police. The bus was set on fire after petrol bombs were thrown.
Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov blamed “provocateurs and extremists” for the confrontations and urged people not to follow their lead.
Police were filming everything and had opened criminal proceedings under Article 294 (organization of mass riots), the Interior Ministry said.
Earlier the rally on the main square heard a call from a former Ukrainian navy chief for members of the armed forces to defy “illegal” orders from those in power, Unian news agency reported.
Rear Adm Ihor Tenyukh, who was sacked by President Yanukovych in 2010, warned of the dangers posed by the “coup d’etat planned by the current authorities”.
“Tomorrow the regime will enslave you too. Therefore we are calling on you to fulfill your military oath of loyalty to the Ukrainian people and not to the authorities who have gone off the rails,” he was quoted as saying.
Opposition leaders are under huge pressure to come up with an action plan, amid criticism from many activists that their campaign has been too passive.
The new curbs on protests, which have been signed into law by the president, include:
A ban on the unauthorized installation of tents, stages or amplifiers in public places
Provision to arrest protesters wearing masks or helmets
A ban on protests involving more than five vehicles in convoy
Hefty fines or jail for breaches of law
The protesters have been camping out behind extensive barricades on the Euromaidan, as Independence Square has been dubbed, for nearly two months.
Fresh anti-government protests gathered tens of thousands of Ukrainians in Kiev.
Many demonstrators also marched on President Viktor Yanukovych’s official residence outside the capital.
They have been re-energized by a brutal attack on a prominent journalist, Tetyana Chornovol, on Christmas Day.
Tetyana Chornovol had accused Viktor Yanukovych of corruption over his financing of the Mezhygirya residence in an expose.
Viktor Yanukovych denies any allegation of corruption and has called for an investigation into the attack on Tetyana Chornovol.
Protesters made their way to the Mezhygirya residence, some 9 miles away on the banks of the Dnipro river, by bike, car and minibus, where they carried a coffin to symbolize what they hope is the end of his political life, AFP reported.
Ukrainian protesters have been re-energized by a brutal attack on journalist Tetyana Chornovol on Christmas Day
Demonstrators first took to the streets in late November, angered by President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to abandon an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
Protesters continue to occupy the central Independence Square and have refortified barricades to ward off attempts by police to clear the camp – though such attempts now appear to have been abandoned.
But on Sunday, more protesters returned to the streets of Kiev, many angered by the attack on Tetyana Chornovol, who says her car was run off the road before she was taken out and beaten by men.
Pictures have been circulated of her bloodied and swollen face following the beating.
Local news agencies say five men have been placed under arrest but no motive has been put forward.
Tetyana Chornovol, 34, says her assailants followed her in a “black luxury” SUV after she had been taking pictures of the residences of senior administration figures.
Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych has said he strongly opposes Western politicians intervening in the crisis in his country.
Asked about their recent visits to the protest camp in Kiev, Viktor Yanukovych said: “I am categorically against anybody coming and teaching us how to live.”
The opposition is furious after Viktor Yanukovych accepted a Russian bailout, seen as a reward for rejecting EU integration.
President Vladimir Putin said he was defending the Russian economy.
“We just want to defend our gates,” Vladimir Putin told journalists in Moscow, days after Russia gave Ukraine a $15 billion (10.9 billion euros) bailout and gas discount.
Ukraine, Vladimir Putin said, was a fraternal state with close industrial ties to Russia.
Protests have gripped much of Ukraine since President Viktor Yanukovych suspended the EU deal last month.
The opposition has been demanding to know what, if any, conditions the Kremlin attached to its decision to buy $15 billion in Ukrainian government bonds and slash the gas price from more than $400 per 1,000 cubic metres to $268.5.
Viktor Yanukovych has said he strongly opposes Western politicians intervening in the crisis in Ukraine
Russia’s financial help averted a debt crisis for Ukraine in the short term.
At a news conference in Kiev on Thursday, Viktor Yanukovych was asked about visits to the pro-EU protest camp by foreign politicians who have included US Republican Senator John McCain, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, former German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and others.
“What is very important is that this is our internal matter, and that other countries do not intervene in our internal affairs,” he said.
He said the deal with Moscow did not run counter to Ukraine’s course towards European integration and blamed Ukraine’s current economic problems on the policies of his predecessors, the leaders of Ukraine’s pro-Western Orange Revolution.
Asked why the Ukrainian economy was in such trouble, Viktor Yanukovych said the gas contract signed with Russia by former PM Yulia Tymoshenko in 2009 had incurred a loss of $20 billion.
Another problem, he said, was the repayment of an IMF loan of $16.4 billion negotiated in 2008, and a third factor was the recent fall in trade with Russia and other ex-Soviet states.
Asked about his position on the Customs Union led by Russia, Viktor Yanukovych said that Ukraine only had observer status but he suggested that it could adopt certain clauses.
“Ukraine’s government is studying these clauses and, once conclusions are drawn, the corresponding transparent decisions will be taken on which clauses we will adhere to,” he said.
Ukraine’s pro-EU protesters have rejected any move to join the Customs Union, which was set up in 2010 and includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Ukrainian opposition leaders have demanded to know what President Viktor Yanukovych has offered Russia in return for a major economic lifeline.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to buy billions of dollars worth of Ukrainian government bonds and slash the price Ukraine pays for Russian gas.
The announcement comes as Russia tries to stop Ukraine moving towards the EU.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told pro-EU protesters in Kiev Viktor Yanukovych was betraying Ukraine’s independence.
“He has given up Ukraine’s national interests, given up independence,” Vitali Klitschko, a former boxing champion, told the crowd on Tuesday.
“[President] Yanukovych used our country as collateral. According to our sources, he has agreed to a bailout from Russia and put Ukrainian plants, strategic industries, heavy industries, aviation and energy manufacturers up as collateral against it. We want to know what exactly he did put up as collateral, and his reasons for doing it.”
He called on President Viktor Yanukovych to hold a snap election.
“Yanukovych said at our round-table talks that he is not afraid of an early election. If that’s the case, let him prove it in an honest fight,” he said.
Ukrainian opposition leaders have demanded to know what President Viktor Yanukovych has offered Russia in return for a major economic lifeline
Although details of the agreement are unclear, Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of an opposition far-right group, said Viktor Yanukovych had “pawned whole sectors” of the country’s economy to Russia.
Ukraine urgently needs to cover an external funding gap of up to $17 billion (12.3 billion euros) next year to avoid defaulting on its debts.
After talks between Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yanukovych in the Kremlin, it was announced Russia would buy $15 billion-worth of Ukrainian government bonds.
The cost of Russian gas supplied to Ukraine has been slashed from more than $400 (291 euros) per 1,000 cubic metres to $268.5.
Vladimir Putin said the assistance was not “tied to any conditions”.
He also said they had not discussed Ukraine joining a Moscow-led customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The US has warned the Ukrainian government that the deal with Russia would not satisfy the protesters.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said ties with Russia should not prevent Kiev from looking West.
“At the moment it seems to be an either-or proposition. We need to put an end to this,” Angela Merkel told ARD TV.
“A bidding competition won’t solve the problem.”
The current agreement signed between Russia’s Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftogaz amends a controversial 2009 deal signed by former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko, for which she was jailed two years ago.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has announced that Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych intends to sign a deal on closer EU ties after all.
Baroness Catherine Ashton was speaking as pro-EU protesters continued to paralyze the centre of Kiev over Viktor Yanokovych’s decision not to sign the EU association agreement.
The president’s U-turn late last month followed pressure from Russia.
Catherine Ashton said Viktor Yanukovych had assured her when they met that his aim was to sign the agreement.
The baroness did not give an indication of when she expected this to happen.
She said his concern during their talks was the “short term economic issues” that Ukraine faced.
Catherine Ashton met President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev
Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of the deal last month, explaining that Kiev could not afford to sacrifice trade with Russia. While adding that he still aimed to sign the deal, Viktor Yanukovych said Ukraine would need at least 20 billion euros ($27 billion) a year to upgrade its economy.
Catherine Ashton said on Thursday: “It is my view that those challenges, which are real, can be addressed by the support that not only comes from the European Union institutions, but actually by showing that he has a serious economic plan in signing the association agreement also will help to bring in the kind of investment that he needs.”
The Ukrainian government’s handling of the pro-EU protests in Independence Square in Kiev has met with a stern response from both the European Union and the US.
Police moved into the main protest camp in the early hours of Wednesday, prompting US Secretary of State John Kerry to express “disgust” at the government’s treatment of a peaceful protest.
At least nine people were detained and there were some reports of police using violence. The state department said later it was considering a range of responses including sanctions.
After her meeting with Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday, Catherine Ashton said she had insisted on the release of anyone arrested because of the protests and that the Ukrainian president had assured her that would happen.
Moscow is concerned the EU free trade deal with Kiev would flood the Russian market and wants Ukraine to sign up to a customs union that includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.
In his annual address to the Russian parliament on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin said he hoped a solution to Ukraine’s crisis could be found and insisted the customs union would not be forced on Kiev.
Clashes have erupted between Ukrainian protesters and riot police outside city hall in Kiev.
The clashes follow a night of scuffles and a stand-off after police moved in on a large protest camp in Independence Square.
But more demonstrators have joined the protest in response to an opposition call for solidarity.
The government’s decision to withdraw from a free-trade deal with the EU last month sparked huge street rallies.
Police stormed city hall as they tried to dislodge protesters from the building.
Reports said protesters used hoses to fire icy water back at the police.
Clashes have erupted between Ukrainian protesters and riot police outside city hall in Kiev
Protesters gathered around the police, chanting slogans against their action, said 5 Kanal TV station in scenes carried on a live feed from the protests.
Police had moved in on the protest at about 02:00 a.m., saying they wanted to free up a passage through the square for traffic.
Protesters in hard hats locked arms to form human walls to try to resist the police push. At least nine people were detained.
There were calls for restraint from priests intoning prayers and pop singer Ruslana – urging “Do not hurt us!” – on a stage in the square. More people flooded into the square in response to pleas for solidarity.
The latest police action comes after EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton held talks with President Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday.
Baroness Catherine Ashton, who was cheered by crowds when she visited Kiev’s main protest site, said she was saddened that police had later used force to try to remove protesters.
“I was among you on Maidan [Independence Square] in the evening and was impressed by determination of Ukrainians demonstrating for European perspective of the country,” Catherine Ashton said in a statement posted on Facebook.
“Some hours later I observe with sadness that police uses force to remove peaceful people from the centre of Kiev. The authorities didn’t need to act under the coverage of night to engage with the society by using police.”
Riot police and interior ministry officers dismantled some barriers and tents but met resistance from opposition supporters.
NATO foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels have condemned the use of “excessive force” during protests in Ukraine.
US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Ukraine to “listen to the voices of its people”.
Earlier, Ukraine’s PM Mykola Azarov apologized in parliament for the use of police force against protesters.
Mass protests were sparked by the government’s decision not to sign an association deal with the EU last week.
Thousands demonstrated outside the parliament building in Kiev on Tuesday, with protests in the city once again continuing into the evening.
“We urge all sides to conduct themselves peacefully. Violence has no place in a modern European state,” John Kerry told reporters.
The ministers said in a statement that they urged “Ukraine… to fully abide by its international commitments and to uphold the freedom of expression and assembly”.
“We urge the government and the opposition to engage in dialogue and launch a reform process,” they added.
Mass protests in Kiev were sparked by the government’s decision not to sign an association deal with the EU
Earlier on Tuesday, the Ukrainian parliament rejected an attempt to force the resignation of the government.
The opposition tabled the motion of no-confidence, which was defeated.
Before parliament voted on the motion, Mykola Azarov addressed an emergency session:
“On behalf of our government, I would like to apologize for the actions of our law enforcement authorities on Maidan [Independence Square],” he said, referring to violence at the weekend.
“The president and the government deeply regret that this happened.”
Speaking above boos by opposition deputies in parliament, the prime minister called for protests outside the government buildings in Kiev to end, and appealed for Ukrainians not to return to the unrest of the Orange Revolution of 2004.
“We reach out our hand to you. Push away the plotters, the plotters seeking power and who are trying to repeat the scenario of 2004,” Mykola Azarov said.
Later he said the government was ready for dialogue with protesters but that they must “stop occupying government buildings and interfering with the work of the government administration”.
The newspaper Ukrainska Pravda published a series of videos and photographs which it says backs up the claims.
The images appear to show a group of young men wearing masks and helmets pushing against police lines in front of the presidential building. Soon afterwards several are seen beckoning to others in the crowd and then passing through the blockade, without resistance from officers.
At least one of the men is also pictured standing uninterrupted behind the riot police.
Russia had urged Ukraine to delay signing a trade deal with the EU, Ukrainian PM Mykola Azarov has admitted, as mass protest rallies continue across the country.
Mykola Azarov said Moscow had offered to hold trilateral talks on the issue, without giving “any ultimatums”.
Kiev last week put on hold the association and free trade deal with the EU, prompting Brussels to accuse Moscow of exerting pressure on Ukraine.
The move triggered huge pro-EU protests in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied putting any pressure on Kiev, accusing instead the EU of “blackmailing” Ukraine into signing the agreement.
Speaking to reporters in Kiev on Tuesday, Mykola Azarov acknowledged that Russia had suggested “to delay signing the treaty and to conduct negotiations” between Kiev, Moscow and the EU.
He said Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych would still attend this week’s EU summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, to discuss the possible consultations with Brussels and Moscow.
Russia had urged Ukraine to delay signing a trade deal with the EU
It had been originally planned that Ukraine would sign the treaty with the EU at the 28-29 November summit.
Mykola Azarov said such three-way talks would be in the best interests of Ukraine: “We absolutely do not want to be a battlefield between the EU and Russia. We want to have good relations with both the EU and Russia.”
He also added that separate “road-map” talks with Russia aimed at reviving economic ties would start next month and no agreement had been finalized on possible new financial support from the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, President Putin said it was solely up to Ukraine whether to sign or not the agreement with the EU.
During a visit to Italy, Vladimir Putin also urged EU leaders to refrain from “sharp words” on the issue.
Ukraine’s government said last Thursday it was halting preparations for signing the deal with the EU, amid concerns this would have a negative impact on Kiev’s trade relations with Russia and cause mass job losses as a result.
Moscow had earlier warned it would be forced to defend its market by raising custom duties on Ukrainian goods.
In a statement on Monday, Viktor Yanukovych said he had been forced to halt treaty preparations by economic necessity and the desire to protect those “most vulnerable”.
Tens of thousands of protesters have been taking to the streets of Ukraine’s major cities since last week.