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Ukraine

Ukrainian riot police withdraw from Kyiv's Independence Square

Riot police have begun leaving a large camp in central Kyiv following overnight clashes with protesters. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government appears to be mulling a deal with the EU, in exchange for more aid.

Ukraine protesters claim moral victory

Ukrainian authorities ordered the removal of riot police and Interior Ministry forces from Independence Square on Wednesday only hours after they had tried to clear demonstrators from a protest camp. The police had also attempted to retake City Hall, but failed to tear down barricades erected by protesters who have been occupying the building for several weeks.

Eyewitnesses and the Interior Ministry confirmed that riot police had begun boarding buses mid-morning. It was not immediately clear whether all forces would be leaving their position.

Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko called on Ukrainians to "remain calm" and said there were no plans for a renewed police operation on Independence Square - commonly referred to as "Maidan" - which has become the flashpoint of recent protests.

"I would like to put everyone's minds to rest, Maidan will not be stormed," Interior Minister Zakharchenko said.

"No one is going to violate [the people's] right to peaceful protest," he added.

Security forces attempted to disperse thousands of protesters - in some cases, forcibly - overnight on Monday and Tuesday.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to abandon planned political and free-trade agreements with the EU sparked mass demonstrations over a week ago. He further angered the opposition on Friday when he discussed the signing of a strategic partnership treaty with Moscow. Russian Prime minister Vladimir Putin is eager for Ukraine to join its Customs Union, which some fear would be a first step toward rebuilding the Soviet Union.

Ukraine under pressure

EU member states continued to express concern over the situation in Ukraine on Wednesday despite positive developments there toward reconsidering talks with the EU.

US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland traveled to Kyiv to join EU foreign policy chief , who arrived the previous day. Ashton had met with President Yanukovych and then later spoke with demonstrators on Independence Square.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged restraint.

"The protests are a vibrant expression of people's desire for a European Ukraine," Westerwelle said, adding that Kyiv should "refrain from any form of violence."

Neighboring country Poland reportedly summoned the Ukrainian ambassador over the issue, according to the news agency Reuters, which cited the Twitter account of Polish foreign ministry spokeman Marcin Wojciechowski.

Ukraine seeks 20 bn euros in aid

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told his cabinet on Wednesday that the EU must offer 20 billion euros ($27.54 billion) in aid for the government to consider entering an agreement with the bloc.

"We want to make stipulations in order to minimize losses," Prime Minister Azarov said, referring to the anticipated loss of money from Russia if Ukraine signed a deal with the EU.

"We propose to solve this problem through…financial aid," Azarov added.

President Yanukovych had already hinted on Tuesday that Ukraine would seek more funds from Brussels. The comments followed a roundtable discussion with three former Ukrainian presidents.

The prime minister also confirmed on Wednesday that his government had no plans to discuss the customs union with Moscow.

"We are preparing a lot of documents for the meeting of the Russian/Ukrainian state commission, which will take place on Dec. 17. But I want to end the speculation immediately and say that there will be no talks about the customs union."

kms/tj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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