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Europe

Ukrainian protesters expand tent camp, Klitschko to run for president

Ukrainian protesters have been busy making room for even more demonstrators to join them ahead of another major pro-EU rally. Meanwhile, Vitali Klitschko has said he plans to run for president in the next election.

Ukraine still open to EU treaty

Protesters who have been braving sub-zero temperatures in tents on Kyiv's Independence Square for the past couple of weeks worked on Friday to enlarge the encampment to accommodate more people arriving to take part in the pro-European Union, anti-government protests.

"We will be pitching new tents. There is no longer enough space on the Maidan (Independence Square)," opposition lawmaker Andriy Parubiy told the AFP news agency.

Protest leaders were erecting more tents on the main avenue Kreshchatyk, which is adjacent to the square. This has not been approved by the authorities, but there were no immediate reports of police moving in to stop them.

"People are coming and coming, we do not know where to put them up," 33-year-old Yuri Kirilenko, who had travelled from the southern city of Kherson to take part in the protest, told AFP.

Hundreds of thousands turned out to last Sunday's protest to demand the government either sign an association agreement with the EU or step down. Protest leaders are hoping that even more will turn out this coming Sunday.

Possible change of heart

Following talks on Thursday with President Viktor Yanukovych, who balked at signing just such a deal last month, the EU's foreign policy coordinator, Catherine Ashton, said on Thursday that he had indicated he was now prepared to do so.

"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."

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.

Also on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected Western accusations that the Kremlin had pressured Yanukovych to join a customs union with Russia instead of signing the deal with Brussels.

Heavyweight for president

Meanwhile, world heavyweight boxing champion turned opposition politician Vitali Klitschko has announced that he intends to run for president at the next opportunity.

"I will run for the office," Klitschko said, in an interview broadcast on ARD German public television on Thursday evening. The next presidential election is due in 2015.

pfd/tj ( AFP, dpa, KNA)

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