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Nearly 300,000 Ukrainians rally after EU halts talks

Update: December, 16/2013 - 11:11

KIEV – Nearly 300,000 outraged Ukrainians have braved freezing temperatures to demand closer Western integration after the European Union abruptly suspended historic partnership talks.

The nation of 46 million has been at the heart of a furious diplomatic tug of war since President Viktor Yanukovych's shock decision last month to ditch a landmark EU association agreement.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele on Sunday announced in a tweet at the start of Sunday's rally that the bloc was halting all negotiations until it received "a clear commitment" from Yanukovych that Ukraine was serious about the deal.

However Prime Minister Mykola Azarov insisted that European integration was still a priority for his country.

"We have been told the doors to the EU are open to us as well as those of the Customs Union" of nations that Russia wants Ukraine to join, he told a local television channel.

"It is very good that we can choose and we have chosen European integration."

Yanukovych is due in Moscow on Tuesday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Demonstrators have planned another huge rally.

On Sunday evening, around 5,000 people stayed on the square, huddled around braziers or in canvas tents as temperatures fell to zero degrees celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit).

EU officials told Ukraine that further discussions required a "clear commitment (to) sign (but) Work on hold, had no answer," Fuele said.

Yanukovych upset Brussels on Friday by threatening to prosecute Ukrainian government officials who had worked out the current terms of the EU partnership deal. AFP

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