Ukraine protesters rebuild barricades as EU hold out aid promise

Ukraine protesters rebuild barricades as EU hold out aid promise

PanARMENIAN.Net - Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in central Kiev, rebuilding barricades torn down by police, on Thursday, Dec 12 as the European Union held out a promise of increased aid for Ukraine if it signed a trade and cooperation pact, according to Reuters.

Ukraine's first deputy prime minister Serhiy Arbuzov flew to Brussels with a high-level delegation seeking billions of euros of aid from the EU in return for signing the agreement, which Kiev suddenly backed away from last month.

He said Ukraine, which is on the brink of bankruptcy, would "soon sign" the accord, but declined to provide any date.

EU enlargement chief Stefan Fuele pledged more aid to Kiev if it signed the agreement, and to help it negotiate a loan from the IMF, but gave no figures.

After hours of talks with Arbuzov, Fuele warned that Ukraine faced looming financial crisis.

"We need to help Ukraine to restore rapidly the confidence not only of its citizens, but also that of international investors and creditors as a stable and predictable economy," he told reporters.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was quoted as saying on Wednesday he had asked the EU for 20 billion euros ($27 billion) in aid to offset the cost of signing the EU deal.

A sudden decision by President Viktor Yanukovich on November 21 to walk away from a trade-and-political agreement with the EU and revive trade with Ukraine's old Soviet master has brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets in a chain of weekend rallies, each one larger than the one before it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, concerned protests could yet induce Yanukovich to seal the trade agreement with the EU to Moscow's detriment, painted a picture of a secure future for Ukraine in a Russian-led alliance.

"Our integration project is based on equal rights and real economic interests," said Putin, referring to a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan which he plans to develop into a political and trading bloc to be known as the Eurasian Union.

"I'm sure achieving Eurasian integration will only increase interest (in it) from our other neighbors, including from our Ukrainian partners ... I hope that all political sides can successfully reach an agreement in the interests of the Ukrainian people," he said in a state-of-the-nation address.

A decision to sign the EU deal after all would be likely to infuriate Moscow.

European officials are in discussion with the IMF, the World Bank and other major financial bodies on ways of helping the ex-Soviet republic should it decide to sign the free-trade agreement with the EU after all.

Putin had threatened to respond to such a deal with economic sanctions against Ukraine, which has huge debts and unpaid gas bills outstanding with Moscow. Ukraine's ultimate decision could be decisive to Putin's Eurasian Union plan.

Battalions of riot police withdrew on Wednesday from a protest camp in central Kiev after moving against demonstrators in the early hours in an angry confrontation.

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