Police in Ukraine fired teargas at pro-Europe protesters as they held a second day of demonstrations against the government’s decision not to sign a landmark trade pact with the European Union.
Skirmishes erupted Monday in a central Kyiv square over the Cabinet’s abrupt move last week that had the government pulling out of the EU agreement and focusing instead on trade ties with Russia.
Several hundred people marched through the capital for a second day calling for President Viktor Yanukovych to sign the agreement. Sunday, tens of thousands swarmed the capital in one of the largest protest since the Orange Revolution nine years ago.
The deal with the European Union was set to be signed this week at the EU Eastern partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday criticized Russian pressure over the accord, and said the EU offer for Ukraine remains on the table.
Russia is accused of exerting months of political and economic pressure including threats to Ukraine’s oil supplies.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told parliament Friday that the move did not alter Ukraine’s strategy of EU integration.
The pact was suspended Thursday when parliament refused to pass legislation freeing jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Her release was a key EU condition for signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine.
The suspension order said Ukraine would resume an “active dialogue” with Belarus and Kazakhstan, members of a Russian-led union, and other former Soviet states with the goal of reviving trade and economic relations.
Some members of Ukraine’s opposition said last week that the Cabinet’s announcement was grounds to impeach President Yanukovych.
(Ukrainian riot police wearing gas masks in Kyiv. Photo: Ivan Bandura/flickr.com)