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Ukraine

Ashton indicates Ukraine still keen to sign EU deal

The EU's Catherine Ashton has said Ukraine still plans to sign an association agreement. The European Parliament has advocated sending a special delegation to the troubled country to broker talks.

Ukraine still open to EU treaty

On Thursday, the European Union and Russia both expressed hopes for closer ties with Ukraine, as protests continued on the streets of the capital, Kyiv.

Returning from talks with all parties in Ukraine earlier in the week, EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton said that President Viktor Yanukovych had indicated that he still wanted to sign a deal.

"Look, Yanukovych made it clear to me that he intends to sign the association agreement," Ashton said, adding that such a move "will help to bring in the kind of investment that [Yanukovych] needs." An agreement for closer EU cooperation would secure both institutional support out of Brussels and also market confidence in Ukrainian prospects, Ashton said.

Ukraine's deputy prime minister, Serhiy Arbuzov, told reporters that his government would "soon sign" the EU trade and association agreement, without hinting at a timeframe. After talks with EU Expansion Commissioner Stefan Füle, Abuzov said they were working on a new "road map" towads the deal.

"Ukraine will soon sign this association agreement with the Euopean Union, taking into account the national strategic interest," Arbuzov said.

During his state-of-the-nation address on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he hoped for "an agreement that is in the interests of the Ukrainian people." Putin also dismissed charges that Russia was pressuring the country into joining a customs union instead of signing an accord with Brussels.

European Parliament seeks delegation

Meanwhile, members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg called for a "comprehensive official EU negotiating delegation" to be dispatched to Kyiv for talks with all sides. The European politicians recommended round table talks, and condemned "brutal and unacceptable" police efforts to clear public protests by force.

Protesters in Kyiv reinforced positions around streets leading to Independence Square, a focal point of the demonstrations. The opposition supporters won a victory on Wednesday when police withdrew from efforts to clear the demonstrations following forcible efforts to disband previous protests. Ukraine's Interior Ministry announced in a statement that peaceful protests would be respected, but simultaneously warned the opposition against any unrest that might disturb daily life in the capital.

Yanukovych decided in November not to sign the EU accord as planned at a summit in Vilnius, Latvia, with some countries saying Russian pressure was a key factor in the change. The move helped spark the protracted public protests in Kyiv and around Ukraine.

msh/mkg (AFP, AP, dpa)

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