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Ukraine

Debate in Ukrainian parliament fizzles

Ukraine’s parliament has failed to curb executive powers. Earlier, the government summoned the German ambassador to Kyiv in protest over a call for sanctions by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Opposition loses battle in parliament

In a special session Tuesday, Ukraine's parliament could not agree on reducing President Viktor Yanukovych's powers. Boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko (pictured) said he asked the president earlier Tuesday to allow the legislature more control over the country.

After his meeting with the president, Klitschko urged parliament to "end the dictatorship."

Earlier on Tuesday, Ukraine's government summoned German Ambassador Christof Weil after Berlin's top diplomat Frank-Walter Steinmeier had threatened Kyiv with sanctions. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that the domestic political situation in Ukraine should be assessed objectively and that "provocative statements" should be avoided.

Steinmeier had said Monday that Germany remained ready to take decisive action against Ukraine's leadership to persuade the country to work with the opposition to resolve the political standoff. A violent police response to protests has led to at least six deaths in the past two weeks.

He said that "sanctions should be now be displayed as a threat." He added that, though there had been "small moves that were reason for a little hope" in recent days, Ukraine "remains a powder keg, and I hope that neither side sets it off."

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton dined with opposition leaders after arriving in Kyiv on Tuesday. She will hold talks with President Yanukovych on Wednesday.

Possible EU-US aid

On Monday, the European Union and the United States had confirmed reports that they were looking at options for providing financial assistance to Ukraine if the country managed to resolve its political crisis. The current political unrest was sparked by President Yanukovych's decision in November to balk at signing an Association Agreement with the European Union.

Shortly afterwards, he agreed to accept a loans package worth about $15 billion (11 billion euros) from Russia. Both European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and German Foreign Minister Steinmeier have warned against being drawn into a sort of bidding war in which aid is traded for influence over Ukraine's political future.

"What we can do for a country in difficulties, a country facing enormous challenges, whether we can do a little more in this critical phase, that's what we're currently discussing with other partners," Barroso said Monday.

Biden calls Yanukovych

Later, confirmation came from the US when State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said that Washington was in "preliminary" discussions with the EU regarding possible financial aid for Ukraine.

"The next step is the creation of a new government, and then we will consider what support we would be able to and prepared to provide," Psaki said.

Meanwhile, US Vice President Joe Biden telephoned President Yanukovych on Tuesday. According to the White House, Biden urged Yanukovych to take immediate steps to diffuse the crisis, including pulling back riot police, releasing detained protesters and holding to account those responsible for attacking and beating journalists and protesters.

mkg/slk (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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