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Ukraine Opposition Gives Yanukovych Ultimatum

  • VOA News

Ukraine's opposition, gearing up for what it hopes will be a massive demonstration Sunday, says it will only negotiate with President Viktor Yanukovych if he names a new government that will deepen European ties.

Organizers hope more than 300,000 people show up to protest Yanukovych's decision to back away from a trade deal with the European Union. Instead, he opted to preserve economic ties to Moscow.

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk outlined their demands Saturday.

"The first one," he said is "to sack the government," which he says is "responsible for the political and economic mess that is in Ukraine right now."

Opposition lawmakers tried doing so last week, but a no-confidence vote in parliament fell well short of the required majority.

The opposition protests erupted two weeks ago, after President Yanukovych refused to sign a long-anticipated EU trade deal. Days later, at an EU summit in Lithuania, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Ukrainian leader, "we expected more from you."

For its part, Russia has in recent months exerted strong economic pressure on cash-strapped Kyiv to discourage the EU deal. Russia is Ukraine's largest foreign investor, trading partner and chief natural gas supplier.

Moscow is seeking to form a rival trade bloc of former Soviet satellite countries. Earlier this year it imposed restrictions on goods from Ukraine, cutting Ukrainian exports 25 percent and dragging the country into recession.

Underscoring Ukraine's economic dependence on Moscow, Ukrainian negotiators traveled to the Russian capital on Thursday, seeking lower fees for Russian gas. The talks are part of a push to ensure funding for 2014 Ukrainian debt repayments and gas costs estimated at $17 billion.

A Russian official said no deal has been struck on Ukraine joining the Russian-led Customs Union, an issue that has fueled mass anti-government protests in Kyiv.

Dmitry Peskov says Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not discuss Ukraine's membership in the union during talks Friday in the Russian resort city of Sochi.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
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