• Ukrainian riot police were outnumbered by protesters who took down Lenin's statue (Photo: Ivan Bandura)

Ashton in two-day visit to Ukraine

09.12.13 @ 15:03

  1. By Honor Mahony
  2. Honor email
  3. Honor Twitter

BRUSSELS - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Kiev Tuesday (10 December) to bring "clear EU messages" as thousands of Ukrainians continue to protest President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of closer ties with Europe.

"She is travelling there to support a way out of the political crisis in Ukraine," said her spokesperson, adding that Ashton will meet figures from the government, the opposition and civil society on her two-day visit.

The spokesperson cautioned against seeing it as a "mediation" trip, saying it should be seen as part of the EU standing behind "political dialogue" in the country.

It is the first major move by the EU since Yanukovych in late November said he would not be signing a trade pact with Brussels, citing Russia pressure to get Kiev to join its sphere of influence.

The decision prompted an outpouring of anger on the streets of Kiev with protestors waving Ukraine and EU flags. It culminated Sunday - with an estimated 300,000 people on the streets - in the toppling of a statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

The "second very important element" of Ashton's visit is to ask for an investigation into the "violence against peaceful protestors," said the spokesperson.

Yanukovych ordered a crackdown on the protestors directly after the failed summit in Vilnius where the trade agreement was to be signed.

Media reports Monday said that riot police had been deployed in central Kiev with protesters occupying Independence Square and Kiev city hall for over a week.

The demonstrations have been the biggest the country has seen since the 2004 Orange Revolution.

EU-Ukraine relations have been in a state of flux since the Vilnius summit. Brussels has continued to hold the door open to Kiev signing the trade agreement at a later date.

More broadly it resulted in much analysis about the EU's way of doing business, whether its incremental approach based on abiding by democratic standards and rules can trump the more forceful geopolitical hand displayed by Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Yanukovych, for his part, has kept relatively quiet over the last week.

According to the Guardian newspaper, he released a statement on Monday saying he supported an "all-nation round table" to find a political solution.

The EU has meanwhile given encouragement to Ukrainian protesters.

"I think the European Union has the right and the duty to stand by the people of Ukraine in this very difficult moment, because they are giving to Europe one of the greatest contributions that can be given," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

"Those young people in the streets of Ukraine, with freezing temperatures, are writing the new narrative for Europe," he added.


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