KIEV: Ukraine’s opposition called on Thursday (Friday in Manila) for a mass weekend rally, as pro-European demonstrators sought to increase the pressure on Pre_sident Viktor Yanukovych following a failed police raid.
“We invite everyone to come to our rally at midday on Sunday,” said opposition leader Arseniy Yatsen yuk, as protestors on Kiev’s iconic Independence Square marked three weeks of demonstrations over the government’s decision to reject a historic European Union (EU) deal.
Yanukovych remains under intense pressure after riot police on Wednesday failed to shift thousands of demonstrators from Independence Square.
The United States has threatened sanctions after the failed raid, in which several dozen were wounded.
Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an integration deal with the EU has plunged the former Soviet country into its deepest political crisis in a decade.
The president promised at talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Thursday he would sign the pact, she said.
But he is set on Tuesday to travel to Russia for new talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the two discussed a strategic partnership treaty last week, with any agreement sure to further inflame the opposition.
“The main item on our agenda is to prevent President Yanukovych from joining the Customs Union during his visit to Russia,” Yatsenyuk said at a Thursday briefing.
Putin woos Ukraine for Customs Union
Putin said on Thursday Ukraine was still welcome to join work a Moscow-led Customs Union which he sees as a future alternative to the European Union.
“We are not imposing anything on anyone but if our friends want joint work we are ready for a continuation for that work at expert level,” Putin said in his annual address to the nation.
“Our integration project is based on equal rights, on real economic interests,” said Putin.
The EU has said it cannot sign a free-trade agreement with Ukraine if the ex-Soviet country became a member of the Customs Union.
Ashton, who met Yanukovych twice in Kiev in the last two days, said the Ukrainian leader “made it clear to me that he intends to sign the association agreement.”
The Ukraine government has never formally abandoned its plan to sign the deal.
EU Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fuele said that Brussels could help Kiev clinch an International Monetary Fund loan if there was a firm commitment to sign the pact.
Brussels would offer talks to “examine in depth all issues related to the implementation of the agreement,” said Fuele after meeting with Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov.