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US Senator Visits Ukraine, Backs Opposition Protesters

U.S. Senator John McCain met Saturday in the Ukrainian capital with key government and opposition leaders, ahead of a mass rally aimed at forcing the Kyiv government and its leader, President Viktor Yanukovych, from power.

McCain voiced support for protesters who have occupied central Kyiv for much of the past three weeks, telling reporters he is "proud of what the people of Ukraine are doing so they can restore democracy to their country."

McCain is the latest in a string of Western dignitaries to tour the huge makeshift protest encampment since demonstrations erupted last month over a presidential decision to back away from a key trade deal with the European Union. Kyiv says it will instead focus on repairing and strengthening economic ties with Russia.

Moscow had not directly commented on the McCain visit. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking Saturday, said Western governments had, in his words, "apparently lost the sense of reality" in opposing Ukraine's turn toward Moscow.



Earlier Saturday, President Yanukovych -- in a bid to ease tensions in the capital -- suspended key government officials for their suspected roles in a violent November 30 police crackdown on demonstrators.

Ukraine's opposition leaders are calling for a new mass protest in Kyiv on Sunday, while supporters of Mr. Yanukovych are also planning a demonstration just a kilometer away.

A poll by Ukraine's non-governmental Research & Branding group released earlier this month shows 46 percent of Ukrainians favoring the EU trade pact. Thirty-six percent were shown favoring a rival trade bloc of former Soviet republics and satellite countries that is being pushed by Moscow.

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