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Ukraine President Defends Decision to Scrap EU Deal

Ukrainian President President Viktor Yanukovych has defended his decision to scrap a landmark trade agreement, while pro-Europe protesters in Kyiv held a second day of demonstrations against the move.

Mr. Yanukovych described the decision as "difficult, but unavoidable," and pledged to create a country up to European standards.

The president appealed for peace and calm in the country.

Skirmishes erupted Monday in a central square in the Ukrainian capital, with police firing tear gas at demonstrators protesting the government's decision not to sign the EU trade pact and instead focus on trade ties with Russia.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of pro-Europe demonstrators swarmed Kyiv in one of the largest protests since the Orange Revolution nine years ago.

Several hundred people supporting President Yanukovych also marched through Kyiv for a second day Monday.

The deal with the European Union was set to be signed this week at the EU Eastern partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday criticized Russian pressure over the accord, and said the EU offer remains on the table.

Russia is accused of exerting months of political and economic pressure including threats to Ukraine's oil supplies.



Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told parliament Friday that the move did not alter Ukraine's strategy of EU integration.

The pact was suspended Thursday when parliament refused to pass legislation freeing jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Her release was a key EU condition for signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine.

Tymoshenko on Monday announced that she would go on an indefinite hunger strike to force the government to sign the EU pact.

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