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US, Europe Voice Concern About Ukraine

As thousands in Ukraine continue to protest President Viktor Yanukovych and his decision not to deepen ties with the European Union, other nations are expressing concern about the situation -- particularly a police crackdown on the protesters.

NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels issued a statement Tuesday condemning the "use of excessive force" against the demonstrators.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it is important that Ukrainians' right to peaceful protest is respected.

-- in Reuters story "BELGIUM-NATO/UKRAINE"

"We were all very concerned internationally about the violence, including police violence, that we saw in Ukraine at the weekend. I hope that will be fully investigated and people held to account. The door remains open in the European Union to Ukraine."

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has said Ukraine wants to further integrate with the EU, but cannot afford trade losses with Russia, which is Ukraine's largest foreign investor and trading partner and opposes closer Ukraine-EU relations.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a NATO news conference in Brussels Tuesday that Mr. Yanukovych has "obviously made a personal decision" that the Ukrainian people do not agree with. And, in an apparent reference to Russia, he described what he called "a rather overt and, we think, inappropriate bidding war with respect to the choice that might or might not be made."

-- video attached below

"We feel very strongly that they [the Ukrainians] ought to make their own choice. They ought to be able to decide who they want to affiliate with, without a bidding war, either in personal terms or in national terms, but rather based on the benefits that are available to them and the life that comes with it."

The Ukrainian opposition failed to force out the government Tuesday with a parliamentary no-confidence vote. The measure won the support of 186 mainly opposition lawmakers, 40 short of the majority needed to pass.

But opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko called on supporters to continue to fight. He said if the people do not stop police abuses, "it will happen every time, and nobody will be protected."

Speaking in parliament Tuesday, Prime Minister Azarov apologized for the use of police force against the protesters but denounced demonstrators for blocking access to government buildings.

"A blockade of state buildings, of the cabinet of ministers, is not the way into European integration, but rather a way towards dictatorship and violence."

As many as 350,000 protesters took to the streets of the capital, Kyiv, on Sunday alone. It was the largest show of public anger since the 2004 Orange Revolution, when mass demonstrations against a presidential election won by Mr. Yanukovych led to the annulment of the results.

Some 200 people were injured Sunday after some marchers tried to storm a government building. Police responded with tear gas and flash grenades.

Prime Minister Azarov has said the protests were "out of control" and had "all the signs of a coup."

President Yanukovych, meanwhile, has left Ukraine for a state visit to China.

The demonstrations have been growing since November 21, when the Ukrainian president backed out of the EU trade deal, saying the country needed to continue close ties with Russia.

European news reports say the EU-Ukraine deal began unraveling in late October, when Moscow demanded that cash-strapped Kyiv immediately make full payment of a nearly $1 billion natural gas bill, or face a gas cutoff as winter hits the region.

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