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McCain In Kyiv; Four Officials Charged Over Crackdown

"We are with you" says the sign under the photograph of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych at a pro-government rally in Kyiv on December 14.
"We are with you" says the sign under the photograph of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych at a pro-government rally in Kyiv on December 14.
KYIV -- U.S. Senator John McCain has arrived in Kyiv and met with opposition and religious leaders as well as with the Ukrainian foreign minister.

McCain also met with demonstrators and viewed Independence Square -- where several thousand pro-EU protesters are still gathered -- from the top floor of the House of Labor Unions building.

McCain told that he believes in "a free Ukraine. It is amazing, I've never seen something like this."

McCain's trip came as tens of thousands of Ukrainians took part in pro-government and pro-EU demonstrations on neighboring squares in downtown Kyiv.

McCain (Republican-Arizona) met over dinner with heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, head of the opposition UDAR (Punch) party; nationalist leader Oleh Tyahnybok; and Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) opposition party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

He also met with Patriarch Filaret, the leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. No details of those meetings were immediately available.

McCain said his meeting with Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara was "meaningful." The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Kozhara underlined the "priority of Ukraine's European integration course."

The senator said he was "proud of the people of Ukraine and their desire for democracy in the country."

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An even larger pro-EU demonstration is expected on December 15. A protester named Ivan told Reuters that the rally "will be much bigger tomorrow than today because people continue arriving. They have left their jobs, their families, and their homes."

Thousands of people have demonstrated daily since late November when President Viktor Yanukovych announced Ukraine would not sign an Association Agreement with the EU in favor of closer relations with Russia.

Meanwhile, Yanukovych has suspended four officials for abuse of power in quashing pro-EU protests on November 30 that left dozens of people injured.

The presidential decrees suspending Kyiv state administration head Oleksandr Popov and National Security and Defense Council deputy head Volodymyr Sivkovych appeared on the presidential website on December 14. Also named as suspended were the chief and deputy chief of Kyiv's police force.
U.S. Senator John McCain (right) speaks to Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk (left) from and Oleh Tyahnybok during their meeting in Kyiv on December 14.
U.S. Senator John McCain (right) speaks to Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk (left) from and Oleh Tyahnybok during their meeting in Kyiv on December 14.

At least 20,000 pro-government supporters rallied on European Square in favor of Yanukovych's decision to spurn closer ties with the European Union to pursue better relations with Moscow.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov addressed the crowd, which was only several hundred meters away from Independence Square, where thousands of pro-EU supporters continued their more than two-week-long protest.

Yanukovych's decision last month to postpone indefinitely the signing of an Association Agreement with the EU has triggered the mass protest movement, dubbed "Euromaidan" after similar protests in 2004 on the square (or "Maidan") led to the overturning of a presidential election allegedly rigged by Yanukovych.

Addressing the pro-government rally, Azarov invited politicians to sit at the negotiating table and urged demonstrators to go home, saying, "Ukraine doesn't need barricades."

"According to my information we have these [protests] only in Kyiv. The rest of the country is rather calm. And we have to bring peace to Kyiv, too," Azarov said.

"As I came to this rally I watched with pain in my soul what's happening in Kyiv. So let's muster the courage, I appeal to the politicians. Let's tell our people -- go back to your families, go back to your business."

Yanukovych held talks on December 13 with the leaders of the opposition, but no breakthrough in resolving the crisis was reported. The president, who survived a no-confidence vote earlier this month, rejected demands that the government resign and for new elections.

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Yanukovych met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week to discuss what Ukrainian officials described as a "big strategic partnership agreement" aimed at eliminating differences on trade and economic policies.

In his speech on December 14, Azarov "categorically" denied allegations that the government plans to sign documents on Ukraine's accession to a Russian-led customs union. The prime minister also said that Ukraine could not accept signing the agreement with the EU "and going bankrupt."

He continued, saying opposition leaders were telling fables when they say, "If we sign the agreement, we shall travel to Europe freely." He said Ukraine would first need to legalize same-sex marriages and adopt legislation on equal rights of sexual minorities, a that Ukrainian society was not prepared for that.

PHOTO GALLERY: As mass antigovernment protests continue in Kyiv, volunteers have taken on the job of feeding the activists in the streets. The main kitchen supplying the protests, located at the dining hall of a labor-union building, is in operation 24 hours a day, making meals and hot drinks with supplies donated by supporters.

In an interview broadcast on December 14, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukrainian demonstrators were overreacting.

Lavrov told Russian news channel Rossia 24: "It is astounding how the country is on the brink of hysteria due to a sovereign decision by the legitimate government of Ukraine."

Lavrov also criticized the West for excessive involvement in the protests, saying, "The fact that our Western partners have apparently lost touch with reality is a great sadness to me."

With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, and Channel 5
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