EU’s Ashton to fly to restive Ukraine for two-day visit

AFP-JIJI

The European Union’s top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, will travel to Ukraine on Tuesday for a two-day visit after hundreds of thousands of demonstrators protested the rejection of an EU pact, the Commission said.

“She’s expected to meet all the main stakeholders on both sides . . . as well as civil society,” a commission spokeswoman told a regular news briefing on Monday.

“She’s traveling there to support a way out of the political crisis in Ukraine,” she added.

The spokeswoman stressed that the EU “continues to request an investigation into the violence we have seen against the peaceful protesters and everything that followed.”

In the biggest protests since the 2004 Orange Revolution, hundreds of thousands packed Kiev’s Independence Square on Sunday to denounce President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of an EU pact under Kremlin pressure.

With tensions running high, dozens of interior ministry troops and riot police were sent into central Kiev and could be seen moving in columns through the streets.

Earlier Monday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso appeared to back the protesters, saying in a speech: “If sometimes in Europe, some of us have doubts about how important these European values are, just look at Ukraine.”

“Those young people in the streets of Ukraine in freezing temperatures are writing the new narrative for Europe,” Barroso said.

On Monday, thousands continued to brave sub-freezing temperatures to maintain the demonstration on Independence Square and raise the pressure on Yanukovych.