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16 Dec, 2013 00:30

Rival rallies continue in Kiev as Western meddling increases

Tens of thousands of people from across Ukraine gathered in central Kiev for rival anti- and pro-government rallies on Sunday, continuing their demonstrations as US and EU officials increase their involvement in the political crisis.

US Senators John McCain and Chris Murphy have joined the opposition rally by addressing the crowd from a stage, declaring how the protests are inspiring the world.

"People of Ukraine, this is your moment. This is about you, no one else. This is about the future you want for your country. This is about the future you deserve," McCain said.

"We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe,” he added. “The US is with you.”

Murphy also urged protesters to continue the fight. “Ukraine's future stands with Europe, and the United States stands with Ukraine," he said.

Meanwhile, Polish MPs set up a tent on Independence Square on Sunday, UNIAN news reported. “I haven’t felt as free as I do here on the Maidan for a very long time,” MP Malgorzata Gosevska said, adding that Polish national dishes will be distributed to the protesters in the evening.

Ukrainian opposition supporters gather at a mass rally on Independence Square in Kiev on December 15, 2013. (AFP Photo / Viktor Drachev)

McCain and Murphy met with Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich on Sunday. During the talks, the president “emphasized the invariability of the European integration course of Ukraine and the faithfulness to national interests of the state,” according to a statement on the leader’s website.

Yanukovich assured that the government will do everything in its power to make certain that citizens’ rights for peaceful demonstrations are protected, and confirmed that there will be an investigation into the events of November 30 on Independence Square - the day security forces launched a crackdown on protesters. The two sides have agreed to continue negotiations.

McCain also met with imprisoned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko’s daughter and said he supported sanctions against specific officials in the Ukrainian government, Tymoshenko's Batkyvschina party said in a Sunday statement on its website.

"This morning the daughter of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, Yevgenia...held a meeting with US Senator John McCain," the statement reads. McCain talked about "the possibility of bringing in personal sanctions against senior officials in [President Viktor] Yanukovych's regime, including those implicated in the politically motivated persecution and jailing of Yulia Tymoshenko," it continues.

Pro-European intergration protesters stand behind a barricade at Independence Square in Kiev December 15, 2013. (Reuters / Alexander Demianchuk)

Around 20,000 pro-EU protesters once again gathered on Independence Square on Sunday, continuing the demonstrations which have now lasted more than three weeks.

Later in the day, three columns of protesters moved out of Independence Square to hold demonstrations in front of the Ukrainian government buildings in Kiev.

Opposition leaders sent a group to the Ukrainian Security Service headquarters and the Interior Ministry, claiming that those agencies were responsible for the violent crackdown on the Maidan rally on November 30.

The third group headed towards the Central Election Committee due to early parliament elections that were taking place in five of the country’s districts on Sunday.

In nearby Mariinsky Park, a group of around 15,000 people came out to participate in anti-EU demonstrations and support President Yanukovich.

Ukrainian opposition supporters waves flags during a mass rally on Independence Square in Kiev on December 15, 2013. (AFP Photo / Viktor Drachev)

Earlier on Sunday, it was announced that the European Union is freezing its work with the Ukrainian government on a controversial trade agreement. The country decided to postpone the deal last month, triggering massive protests. The EU believes that Ukraine’s position in the negotiations of the Association Agreement has “no grounds in reality,” EU enlargement chief Stefan Fuele tweeted.

The angry remarks came after Fuele’s meeting with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Arbuzov.

Commenting on the news, the Ukrainian PM’s office said Kiev has a strong intention to continue negotiations with the EU. But Ukraine will only respond to official messages from the Europeans - not tweets - a spokesman for the Prime Minister added.

In the meantime, Yanukovich is scheduled to visit Moscow on December 17. The country’s Prime Minister, Nikolay Azarov, stated that no documents will be signed in relation to the country joining the Customs Union during the interstate commission meeting on December 17 in Moscow. He clarified that before anything is signed, it must be approved by the cabinet and “right now there are no documents that directly or indirectly have any relation to the Customs Union,” Azarov told Inter TV channel.

Threat of sanctions

As the confrontation continues, European and American politicians and top officials are flocking to Ukraine to cheer on the opposition crowds and criticize the Yanukovich government for not acting on protesters’ demands.

During a meeting with opposition leaders - former boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and far right nationalist Oleh Tyahnybog - McCain was asked for more than just moral support from the US - referring to the possible introduction of sanctions, UNIAN reported on Saturday.

People shout slogans and wave Ukrainian and European Union flags during a mass rally on Independence Square in Kiev, on December 15, 2013. (AFP Photo / Viktor Drachev)

After the meeting, McCain said that he believes the resolution will be adopted swiftly and unanimously by Washington, Ukrainian Pravda quoted him as saying.

Earlier this week, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland handed out snacks to protesters on Independence Square.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also met with both the Ukrainian government and the opposition, and visited Independence Square to see the protests firsthand.

Russia, which has been blamed by both the Ukrainian opposition and Western statesmen for twisting Ukraine’s arm to stop its EU integration, is trying to distance itself from the conflict. It has, however, criticized the West on several occasions for what Moscow sees as blatant interference in Ukraine’s sovereign affairs.

Unrest in Ukraine began on November 21 when Yanukovich refused to sign the Association Agreement with the EU.

Legal expert and blogger Alexander Mercouris explained to RT that special attention given to Ukraine by Western politicians will only do harm.

"The reasons they are there is bluntly because these people want to detach Ukraine from Russia - as they see it. And they think that by supporting the protesters in Kiev, they might actually achieve that. The problem with the head strategy is that it’s simply not working. The bonds between Ukraine and Russia - economically, culturally, and ethnically - are simply too strong,” he said.

“For American politicians and for European politicians to go to Ukraine and to try to do that is actually very unwise and very dangerous. And is simply exacerbating and making worse the differences, the divisions, in Ukraine, which are already very great,” Mercouris added.