WASHINGTON, D.C.: In a major show of support for pro-democracy protesters in Ukraine, United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry will meet top opposition leaders for the first time this weekend, senior US officials said on Thursday (Friday in Manila).

    On the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Kerry will “have an opportunity to have his first meeting with the major figures in the Ukrainian opposition” on Saturday, a senior State Department official said.

    The officials were speaking just before Kerry’s plane took off from Andrews Air Force base in Virginia for Berlin, where he was to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

    He will spend only a few hours in Berlin before flying to Munich later Friday for the annual security conference, where some 20 heads of state and government and 50 foreign and defense ministers will discuss global hotspots and conflicts.

    Among the Ukrainian opposition leaders slated to hold talks with Kerry are UDAR (Punch) party leader and former boxing world champion Vitali Klitschko and opposition politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

    “Our understanding is that all the major leaders are coming because they want to talk to the international community about the way forward as they see it and the support that they need,” the State Department official said.

    Kerry is also expected to meet Ukraine’s Eurovision Song Contest pop star winner Ruslana, who has been encouraging the protesters on Independence Square over the past weeks with free performances.

    “We’ve been cautiously optimistic that this dialogue between the government and the opposition is beginning to bear fruit,” the official, who asked not to be named, told reporters on a conference call.

    “There’s the question of whether they can move on to form a government of national unity. So they’re coming to Munich in the middle of this negotiating process on what the political compact might look like going forward.”

    Representatives of the Ukrainian government were also expected to attend the Munich talks, including Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara.

    The Ukrainian opposition will have the chance to meet a number of international stakeholders in the political crisis, triggered when President Viktor Yanukovych ditched plans to sign an association agreement with the European Union and struck a multibillion-dollar deal instead with former Soviet master Russia.



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