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Ukrainian President Calls For 'Unity' In 2014

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych says 2013 was possibly "the most difficult" year since Ukraine gained independence.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has called for national unity in 2014 after what he called possibly "the most difficult" year in the history of independent Ukraine.

Yanukovych issued his appeal in his annual New Year's Eve address.

Since Yanukovych refused to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union in late November, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have taken to the streets of Kyiv and other cities calling for Yanukovych and his government to resign.

"The year 2013 is passing, an uneasy year and perhaps the most difficult in the history of independent Ukraine. It was a year of achievements and challenges, disappointments and new hopes. But overall 2013 was a year of progress through Maidans [protest squares] and national roundtable talks, political disputes and honest dialogue," Yanukovych said.

In his address, Yanukovych said Kyiv would deepen ties with the EU, Russia, and China, and vowed Ukraine's national interests would not be harmed.

"We are continuing to work on an Association Agreement with the EU and we have renewed good, brotherly relations with Russia. We have achieved true progress in our relations with China, we are establishing a balance between the East and the West without giving up our national interests," Yanukovych vowed.

Hours after Yanukovych's address was broadcast on TV, at least 100,000 people sang the Ukrainian national anthem at Kyiv's main square in a sign of support for integration with Europe. Organizers said they were trying to set a world record.

Earlier, the leader of Ukraine's opposition UDAR party, Vitali Klitschko, said opposition parties and their supporters will continue their peaceful demonstrations across Ukraine after the winter holidays.

Klitschko, who is a former world heavyweight boxing champion, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on December 31 that the opposition's next step will be a nationwide strike.

An opinion poll published last week by the local Democratic Initiative foundation showed that Yanukovych would lose a second round runoff to Klitschko if presidential elections were held now. The poll also found Yanukovych losing to other opposition leaders including Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the Batkivshchyna, or "Fatherland" party.

With reporting by Reuters
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