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EU urges crisis-hit Ukraine to adopt 'urgent' reforms

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EU urges crisis-hit Ukraine to adopt 'urgent' reforms

Štefan Füle - Photo EC

(KIEV) - EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele on Thursday called on Ukraine to take "urgent steps" to form a new government and reform the constitution, key opposition demands in the crisis-hit country.

Fuele arrived in Kiev on Tuesday for talks with President Viktor Yanukovych, opposition leaders and members of civil society, in a bid to help defuse the nearly three-month-long standoff between authorities and anti-government protesters.

"I stressed the need to take urgent steps on constitutional reform and the formation of a new inclusive government," he told reporters in the Ukrainian capital.

The protest movement erupted in November when Yanukovych rejected a key EU trade and political pact in favour of closer ties with Russia, turning Kiev's central Independence Square into a war zone-like, barricaded tent city, and spreading to other regions.

After initially ignoring opposition demands, Yanukovych yielded some ground after protests turned deadly in January, dismissing the government.

Yanukovych has also hinted that he was ready to sign off on constitutional changes slowly making their way through parliament that would strip the president of some of his powers.

But he has refused to move forward next year's presidential elections -- a key opposition demand.

Aside from its domestic resonance, the protest movement has also become a wider tussle between Russia and the West over the future of ex-Soviet Ukraine.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blasted Western states for meddling in the nation of 46 million, saying that Europe's relations with Moscow were facing a "moment of truth" over the crisis.

"Attempts to decide for the citizens of Ukraine what the future of their state should be and even who should be in their government appear doomed," Russia's top diplomat wrote in Moscow's Kommersant daily.

Fuele made no mention of Lavrov's comments, but said his main message was "that the only one plan which can work here on the ground is a Ukrainian plan."

The European Union has said it stands ready to extend conditional financial assistance to Ukraine in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund and other global actors.

"There are conditions and they are very transparent: reforms, reforms, reforms," Fuele said Thursday, refusing to give a figure for any future financial assistance.

The European Union had last year said it was ready to provide Kiev with a 610-million-euro ($825-million) loan were it to adopt a comprehensive economic restructuring package prescribed by the IMF.

Shortly after Yanukovych ditched the EU pact, Moscow promised Kiev a $15-billion bailout that included a crucial rebate for Ukrainian natural gas imports from Russia.

Fuele said he was due to meet with Yanukovych again on Thursday to brief him on any potential financial assistance.

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