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Ukraine's Yanukovych to attend EU summit despite row

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych, who last week shelved plans to sign a pact with the EU, says he will however attend an EU summit on Thursday. Thousands of pro-EU advocates have rallied again in Kyiv.

President Yanukovych accused the EU on Tuesday of trying to force a "humiliating" financial aid offer via the International Monetary Fund on Ukraine, adding that he would only sign a free trade pact when it suited his country.

"We don't have to be humiliated like this. We are a serious country, a European one," Yanukovych said, adding that a pact with the EU could come "soon or not so soon."

Ukraine was originally scheduled to sign a trade deal with the EU in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, on Thursday. The move, scrapped in parliament last week, was billed as Ukraine moving closer to the EU and away from Moscow, its historic partner.

Yanukovych's remarks in a television interview set the scene for a tense encounter with EU leaders on Thursday at the 28-nation bloc's Vilnius summit, which will also host five other former Soviet countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, visiting Italy on Tuesday, warned Brussels to "refrain" from what he called "sharp statements" about Ukraine's U-turn.

On Monday, EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso had said they "strongly disapproved" of Russia's insistence that Ukraine delay a planned association agreement with the EU.

Ukraine is heavily indebted and strongly reliant on Russian gas deliveries.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said talks with Moscow on joining a customs union alongside Belarus and Kazahkstan will begin next month.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Azarov as saying: "Our aim is to restore normal trade relations with Russia."

In August, Moscow banned confectionery made by a Ukrainian manufacturer seen as pro-European.

Continued street demos

For a third night running, 20,000 pro-European demonstrators protested in Ukraine's western city of Lviv. An estimated 7,000 protested in the capital Kyiv.

In a statement, three of Ukraine's opposition leaders, including the boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko and former economy minister Oleh Tyahniboh, urged Yanukovich to sign the intended association agreement.

Tens of thousands had first massed on Sunday when jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko went on hunger strike to back calls that the pact be signed.

Ukraine's decision to shelve the pact came after its parliament failed to adopt legislation that would have freed Tymoshenko – an EU condition for the deal.

ipj/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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