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Ukraine president, back at work, warns radicals

KIEV: Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich returned to work on Monday after four days of sick leave, issuing a warning about rising "radicalism" after more than two months of unrest on the streets but giving no word on a new prime minister.

Yanukovich, caught in a tug of war between Russia and the West, is seeking a way out of a sometimes violent confrontation with protesters who have occupied city streets and public buildings following his decision in November to spurn a trade deal with the EU and accept financial aid from Moscow.

As he returned to work, looking in fair health, a day before a new session of parliament, the political opposition took heart from fresh expressions of support from Western governments and pressed for more concessions to end protests.

However, the European Union, whose foreign policy chief is due in Kiev late on Tuesday, played down suggestions it was working with the United States on a large-scale aid package aimed at nursing the economy through a political transition.

The president's first urgent task, after an absence that some saw as a tactical gambit to gain time, will be to name a new prime minister to succeed Mykola Azarov, who stepped down on January 28 under pressure from the protest movement.

Russia has suspended its financial support until it sees how a new government will handle relations with Moscow.

But Yanukovich confined himself, in his first public appearance since Wednesday, to warning against the actions of thousands of protesters who have erected barricades around central Kiev and occupied public buildings there and in other cities, as well as militants who have clashed with police.

At least six people were killed in clashes last month.

"We must say no to extremism, radicalism, the fanning of enmity in society, which is the basis of the political fight against the authorities," he said in remarks on video.

On the frontline barricades close to the Kiev parliament building, where riot police and club-wielding, steel-helmeted militants face off across 20 meters of no man's land, his words carry no weight. "We're staying here until Yanukovich is gone," said a 28-year-old masked opposition protester named Dima.

Source: Reuters




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