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Ukraine, Russia leaders meet as protests persist

AP

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych met with his Russian counterpart Friday to discuss closer cooperation while protests clung to the capital over Ukraine’s decision to scrap a deal with the EU.

Yanukovych held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian city of Sochi on his way back from a state visit to China. Yanukovych’s office said the talks were about trade and economic cooperation and preparations for signing a partnership agreement.

No details were given, but the meeting is a challenge to leaders of the protests that broke out last month after Yanukovych stepped back from signing a long-anticipated agreement to deepen economic and political ties with the European Union. Moscow has been pressuring Kiev to join a trade bloc that includes Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

After Yanukovych backed out of signing the agreement, officials said Ukraine remained committed to deeper integration with the EU, a statement that opposition leaders met with derision. “Their attempts to sell Ukraine to Russia have not ended in any way,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the main opposition party’s faction in parliament, said Friday.

A sizeable tent camp for protesters — including field kitchens for the long haul — has been set up on Kiev’s main square. Crowds of protesters swell nightly to several thousand. Other protesters have occupied the city administration building and have blocked access to the presidential offices.

Another top opposition figure, Oleh Tyanhybok, said Friday he was open to talking with officials to find a way out of the crisis, but only if police officers who violently dispersed demonstrators are punished.