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Ukraine’s Yanukovich sees no alternative to close trade ties with Moscow

(Reuters) – Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, speaking on television after more than two weeks of street unrest over his U-turn away from the European Union towards Russia, said on Tuesday there was no alternative to restoring trade relations with Moscow.

While asserting that Ukraine still wanted integration with the EU, he said: “We cannot talk about the future without talking about restoring trade relations with Russia.”

Yanukovich, seated with three former presidents of Ukraine as he spoke, said it was time to turn a “shameful page” in Ukraine’s history – a reference to the unrest in which hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in central Kiev and police have been criticized for a crackdown on protesters.

But he made no sign of changing his policy nor any indication he would give in to opposition calls for the dismissal of his government or call early elections.

Nor did he give any details of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last Friday which have fuelled opposition suspicions that he may be readying to take Ukraine into a Moscow-led customs union in return for dumping a trade pact with the EU.

Referring to the unrest in which the police have been criticized for heavy-handedness, he said: “There have been violations on Independence Square – these must be assessed and the guilty must be held responsible on both sides.”

Independence Square in central Kiev is the focal point of a protest encampment of tents and barricades.

(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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