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Ukrainian opposition support slammed

Russia's foreign minister slammed Western support of Ukraine's opposition, suggesting on Saturday that it is helping fuel the escalation of violence.

Ukraine has faced two months of major protests that started after President Viktor Yanukovych backed off an agreement to deepen ties with the European Union in favour of relations with Russia.

The protests had been mostly peaceful until mid-January, when demonstrators angered by the new anti-protest laws launched violent clashes with police. Three protesters died in the clashes, two of them from gunshot wounds. Police insist they didn't fire the fatal shots.

At a gathering of the world's top diplomats and defence officials in Munich, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took issue with what he said were "prominent European politicians actually encouraging such actions."

"What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy?" Lavrov said. "Why don't we hear condemnations of those who seize and hold government buildings, burn, torch the police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?"

Speaking before Lavrov, NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen blamed security forces in Ukraine for using excessive force, and added that "Ukraine must have the freedom to choose its own path without external pressure."

One of Ukraine's top opposition leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said his country needs more than "vocal support" from the West.

Fellow opposition politician Vitali Klitschko left the conference briefly to address several hundred supporters at a demonstration about a kilometre (half-mile) away.

"We want to be a modern European country, live with a secure future," Klitschko, a heavyweight boxing champion, told the crowd. "Without a fight there's no victory, therefore we must fight."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was expected to meet with opposition leaders in Munich Saturday, and Ukraine's foreign minister was also attending the conference.

Klitschko told reporters it was "very important" to have the support of Kerry and others.

"I expect support for Ukraine, support for the democratic peaceful movement, because everybody wants to see Ukraine as a modern European country," he said.

During a public appearance in Munich, Kerry decried what he called a "disturbing trend" of governments in central and eastern Europe, including Ukraine, trampling on the aspirations of ordinary people.

Kerry said the crisis in Ukraine is about ordinary people fighting for the right to associate with the European Union. And he said Ukrainians have decided their futures don't have to lie with one country - an allusion to Russia.

"Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine," he said. "While there are unsavoury elements in any chaotic situation, the vast majority of Ukrainians want to live freely in a safe, prosperous country."

Lavrov suggested that a possible solution to tensions such as those over Ukraine was a free trade zone including the European Union and a customs union of former Soviet states, floated in the past by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"It is unlikely that any European nation would face the 'either-or' choice today if we were already on the track to a common European home," he said. "Unfortunately, what still prevails is the logic of preserving the dividing lines according to the principle of 'he who is not for us is against us.'"

 

The Canadian Press

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