Ukrainian protesters urge closer ties with EU

President Viktor Yanukovych has backed out of a trade deal with European nations, angering many in his home country.

    Hundreds of Ukrainians have flocked to Kiev's Liberty Square to show their support for closer ties with their European neighbours.

    Demonstrators, who have camped out for a week, have been protesting around the clock against the government's decision to abandon forging an historic pact with the European Union.

    Despite freezing temperatures, they said they had no intention of ending the protest unless President Viktor Yanukovych agrees to sign a planned trade deal with the EU.

    Yanukovych is still set to attend a summit in Lithuanian capital Vilnius on Thursday, at which the deal was due to be signed, and some hoped he might change his mind at the last moment.

    "Our offer stays on the table," Stefan Fuele, EU's Enlargement Commissioner, said.

    Protesters in Kiev continue to hope Yanukovych takes up the offer.

    "I think the youth of our country will eventually achieve integration with the rest of Europe," 73-year-old Taras Senyk told Al Jazeera.

    "But we don’t expect any help from that convict, our president. He's a cunning man."

    Others said there seemed to be no sign Yanukovych would back down.

    "During the period of his presidency, we have come to understand that he is a dishonest man who does not do anything to make the country better and improve conditions for people. We will stay here until the end and will demand his resignation," Nazar, a protester, said.

    Russian row

    Yanukovych's government says Ukraine cannot afford to sacrifice trade with Russia for closer ties to the EU.

    As Kiev intensified talks with Brussels in recent months, Russia imposed punishing trade sanctions.

    The debate over Ukraine's future has turned into a heated diplomatic tussle between the EU and the Kremlin.

    Russia wants its smaller neighbour to join a Moscow-led Customs Union - which already includes the former Soviet states of Belarus and Kazakhstan.

    Moscow has repeatedly threatened Ukraine, which heavily depends on Russian natural gas, with economic retaliation if it signed the EU pact.

    Top EU officials have said they "strongly disapprove" of Russian pressure on Kiev.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has responded by advising "our friends in Brussels, my personal good friends in the European Commission, to hold back on the sharp words".

    Yulia Tymoshenko, the jailed opposition leader whose release had been sought by European politicians as a prerequisite for Ukraine talks, called on EU leaders to drop all preconditions to strike a deal with Ukraine.

    "I thank you for steadfastly defending democracy in Ukraine," read a statement from the 53-year-old. "But today it's necessary to release not just separate political prisoners - it's necessary to free Ukraine."

    She went on to tell EU officials that, by signing the pact, "you would help an entire nation to overcome a civilisational abyss created by erroneous ideologies and agressive empires; you would make another important step towards re-uniting the entire Europe".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    What obstacles do young women in technology have to overcome to achieve their dreams? Play this retro game to find out.

    The War in October: What Happened in 1973?

    The War in October: What Happened in 1973?

    Al Jazeera examines three weeks of war from which both Arabs and Israelis claimed to emerge victorious.