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OSCE meeting opens in Kyiv as anti-government protests continue

Top European and other diplomats have gathered in Kyiv for a key OSCE meeting. This came as thousands of protesters remained on the streets of the Ukrainian capital to demand that the government step down.

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OSCE meets amid Ukraine protests

As the foreign ministers arrived for a meeting of the ministerial council of the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe, thousands of demonstrators were in Kyiv's independence square where they have been protesting ever since the country's president decided last week not to sign an association agreement with the European Union.

Among the first to arrive was Germany's outgoing foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle (pictured above left), who met with opposition leader Vitali Klitschko and visited independence square on Wednesday evening.

Westerwelle also met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov (above right) ahead of the start of the of the OSCE meeting on Thursday.

In his opening remarks at the conference, Prime Minister Azarov said his government, which defeated a motion of no-confidence from the opposition earlier in the week, was "ready for dialogue" with its opponents. At the same time he said there were "extremist forces" among the protesters demanding his government's resignation.

Westerwelle, meanwhile, called on Ukraine's government to ensure the rights of the protesters were ensured.

He said Ukraine had a "responsibility to protect peaceful demonstrators from all forms of intimidation or violence."

The German foreign minister also rejected a charge from Russia that the West was seeking to meddle in Ukraine's internal affairs.

"We are not taking sides with any party," Westerwelle said, adding that what Germany was doing was simply expressing European values. He also said Europe remained open to Ukraine.

Following Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's decision not to sign onto the association agreement with the EU, which is reported to have come due to pressure from Moscow, some foreign ministers, including US Secretary of State John Kerry have opted to give the OSCE meeting a miss.

However, several other key players in the Ukraine crisis were there, including Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Radoslav Sikorski of Poland and Russia's Sergei Lavrov.

The OSCE is made up of 57 member states including most European and former Soviet states, the US, Mongolia and Canada.

pfd/hc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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