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Ukraine

Germany's Foreign Minister Westerwelle visits Ukrainian protesters

Germany's top diplomat has visited pro-EU demonstrators in Ukraine's capital, telling them the "gates of the EU are still open" despite President Viktor Yanukovych's refusal to sign a pact to formalize ties.

Ukrainians seek EU ties without Yanukovych

Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov warned pro-EU demonstrators on Wednesday that they could be prosecuted as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle paid a visit to Ukrainian protest leaders in Kyiv.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, visiting Brussels, accused NATO ministers of portraying a "distorted picture" of events in Ukraine, adding that Kyiv had a "sovereign right to ratify or not ratify a document."

He was reacting to NATO's condemnation on Tuesday of last weekend's Ukrainian police crackdown on pro-EU demonstrators in Kyiv.

'On board with Europe'

Westerwelle, who arrived late Wednesday ahead of an Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting, said "Ukraine should be on board with Europe."

He walked with two Ukrainian opposition leaders - former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and boxing-champion-turned-politician Vitaly Klitscho - to a protest camp in Kyiv's Independence Square.

Yanukovych was absent, having begun a three-day trip to China. Beijing has already provided Ukraine $10 billion (7.4 billion euros) in loans.

On Wednesday, China's foreign ministry delivered a noncommittal response to a query as to whether Beijing would provide more to assist Ukraine's fragile economy which is dependent on imported gas from Russia.

Yanukovych supporters rally

In Yanukovych's home stronghold of Donetsk, 10,000 of his supporters turned out to a rally.

Ukraine's central bank intervened again Wednesday to prop up the hryvnia currency while the cost of servicing Ukrainian debt neared four-year highs.

Visiting Moscow, a Ukrainian delegation lead by deputy premier Yuri Boiko sought lower prices for Russian gas and financial aid.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was quoted by Reuters as telling Boiko that Ukraine's row over whether to near the EU was an "internal matter."

Stability and order was "very important" in Ukraine, Medvedev said.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Azarov's government survived an opposition attempted non-confidence vote in parliament after apologizing for police heavy-handedness. Ukraine's opposition is a loose alliance of factions ranging from pro-EU liberals to hardline nationalists.

Ukraine's tensions have oscillated between the EU and Russia since the so-called Orange Revolution nine years ago, which overturned the post-Soviet order.

ipj/dr (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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