Ukraine's Yanukovich says will do his best to move towards EU

Reuters
Ukrainian President Yanukovich gestures during a news conference in Kiev
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Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich gestures during a news conference in Kiev March 1, 2013 file photo. …

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich pledged to do all he could to accelerate moves closer to the European Union while tens of thousands of protesters readied to rally on Sunday against what they called his broken promise to integrate with Europe.

Tensions have risen in Kiev after riot police used force to break up a pro-EU rally which followed Yanukovich's decision to forego signing a landmark EU deal in favor of closer ties with Kiev's former Soviet master Moscow.

On Sunday, thousands of protesters, waving Ukrainian and EU flags, gathered in central Kiev for a scheduled march through the city at 12:00 (0500 ET).

They were due to head for Independence Square - scene of the clashes with riot police early on Saturday.

"I will do everything in my power to accelerate the process of moving Ukraine closer to the European Union," Interfax news agency quoted Yanukovich as saying in a statement from his press service.

The statement, marking the anniversary of a 1991 referendum that ushered in Ukraine's independence from the then-crumbling Soviet Union, repeated the need to balance Ukraine's European integration with its own national interests.

"Ukraine has made its own geopolitical choice. We are a European people and our path has been historically determined. But at the same time, according to my deep conviction, our government should integration into an association of European nations as an equal partner to be respected," he said.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said in a televised interview late on Saturday that Yanukovich would travel to Moscow after a planned trip to China on Dec 3-6, though he gave no dates.

(Reporting by Thomas Grove; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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