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    Ukraine, Russia Presidents Meet as Protests Continue

    Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, Friday, in a move that could further escalate Ukraine's mass anti-government protests.

    A statement on President Yanukovych's website said the talks focused on trade, economic cooperation and preparations for a new "strategic partnership" agreement between Ukraine and Russia. The two leaders met in the Russian resort city of Sochi.

    Mr. Yanukovych made the unannounced stop in Russia on his way back from a state visit to China.

    The Ukrainian leader's travel comes as he faces political turmoil at home. Thousands of protesters have swarmed the streets of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, for more than two weeks, since Mr. Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union. The government announced instead that it would seek to preserve and strengthen its economic lifeline with Moscow. Demonstrators, in turn, have called for Mr. Yanukovych's ouster.

    As the unrest enters its third week, many countries have expressed concern about Ukraine's violent police response to the demonstrations.



    On Friday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland called violence or the threat of violence "impermissible in a democratic state." She said it is "past time" for Ukraine's leadership to listen to its people and "restore a path to European integration and economic health."

    And Russia had strong words of its own. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Friday that foreign politicians who participated in the pro-European Union demonstrations in Kyiv were acting inappropriately. He said he considered their actions "interference in internal affairs."

    Mr. Medvedev's remarks referred to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's appearance at a pro-EU rally in Kyiv earlier in the week. Western diplomats gathered in Kyiv this week for a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

    On Thursday, several Western officials attending the OSCE meeting challenged the Ukrainian government to consider the protesters' concerns.

    Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said his government was "ready for dialogue."

    Russia -- Ukraine's largest foreign investor, trading partner and chief natural gas supplier -- has in recent months exerted strong economic pressure on cash-strapped Kyiv aimed at derailing the EU deal.

    Earlier this year, Moscow imposed restrictions on goods from Ukraine, forcing a 25 percent drop in Ukrainian exports and dragging the Ukrainian economy into recession.

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