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Massive Ukraine Rally As EU Suspends Talks

Massive Crowds Attend Opposition Rally In Kyiv
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WATCH: Huge crowds attend opposition rally in Kyiv.

An estimated 200,000 pro-EU protesters have gathered on Kyiv's Independence Square, as demonstrators continue their protests against President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of an association accord with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.

U.S. Senator John McCain addressed the opposition rally, telling demontrators that "Ukraine will make Europe better and Europe will make Ukraine better."

LIVE BLOG: Protests As They Happened
McCain told the cheering crowd, "America stands with you. We are here because your peaceful process and peaceful protest is inspiring your country and inspiring the world.

"We are here to support your just cause -- the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe."

McCain (Arizona-Republican) who visited the rally together with Senator Chris Murphy (Connecticut-Democrat) had earlier met with opposition leaders and demonstrators.

The two later met with Yanukovych, who reassured them Ukraine remains on its path of European integration.

The protests were galvanized by a violent police crackdown on November 30. McCain, in an interview on CNN later on December 15 raised the possibility of U.S. sanctions in case of renewed violence.

"These people [Ukrainians] love the United States of America, they love freedom and I don't think you could view [current U.S. approach to the events in Ukraine] as anything but our traditional support for people who want free and democratic society," McCain said.

"We are not talking about military action, we are not talking about blockades -- we are talking about a possibility of sanctions if they [the Ukrainian government] continue to brutally repress their people. That would require some action on our part just because that's what the United States of America is all about."

Pro-EU demonstrators have been holding nearly four weeks of daily protests on Independence Square against Yanukovych's November 21 decision to pull back from the Association Agreement and not sign free-trade accords with the EU that had been under negotiation for years.

'Gap Between Words, Deeds'

The European Union said on December 15 it was suspending talks with Ukraine on the agreements, saying there was a growing discrepancy between the Ukrainian government's words and deeds.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele's spokesman, Peter Stano, told RFE/RL that "What [Fuele] said today regarding Ukraine is that there is more and more discrepancy or there is a growing gap between the deeds and words of the Ukrainian president and government when it comes to the Association Agreement and that the [government's] argumentation regarding this agreement has no grounds in reality."
U.S. Senator John McCain spoke to opposition protesters.
U.S. Senator John McCain spoke to opposition protesters.
Earlier on December 15, Fuele wrote on Twitter that he had told Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov last week that further discussions on the agreement depended on a clear commitment by the government in Kyiv to sign it.

A Ukrainian government spokesman, Vitaliy Lukyanenko, quickly responded that the government remained serious about the negotiations and did not treat Fuele's tweet as the formal position of the bloc.

IN PICTURES: Opposing Rallies In Kyiv

As the massive opposition protest was taking place on Independence Square, an estimated 15,000 demonstrators gathered about 1 kilometer away to express their support for Yanukovych's decision.

Yanukovych is expected on December 17 in Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin. Russia has been pressuring Ukraine to join a Russian-led customs union, which also includes Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Pro-EU protesters on Independence Square backed an opposition-created resolution that "strongly warns and bans" the president from signing up for a customs union with Russia.

The Ukrainian government, which is nearing bankruptcy, owes billions of euros in debts and for Russian energy supplies.

The EU, however, has warned that Ukraine cannot have both an Association Agreement with the EU and be part of the customs union.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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