Ukraine leader heads to China, leaving turmoil at home

Ukraine leader heads to China, leaving turmoil at home
Police stand guard in front of protesters during a demonstration in support of EU integration in front of the Parliament building in Kiev December 3, 2013.

KIEV - Embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich flew to China on Tuesday with his government facing uproar in parliament and turmoil on the streets over a decision to spurn closer ties with the European Union under pressure from Russia.

International markets piled in, driving up the cost of insuring Ukraine's mounting debt against default and threatening a financial crisis that could force Yanukovich's hand.

Black-clad riot police faced off in freezing conditions against several thousand pro-EU protesters outside parliament in Kiev while opposition leaders inside the chamber shouted down Prime Minister Mykola Azarov during a fiery debate.

Azarov's allies voted down an opposition demand to hold a vote of no-confidence in the government, but the victory was unlikely to provide much relief.

Some 350,000 protesters massed on Sunday in Kiev in the biggest show of popular anger since Ukraine's 2004 'Orange Revolution'. Thousands are still manning barricades and picketing government buildings.

The government's November 21 decision to reject a deal on closer trade ties and integration with the EU has plunged the country of 46 million into turmoil, laying bare once more a deep split in thinking between the Russian-speaking East and Ukrainian-speaking West.

Ukraine's currency, bonds and share prices have come under severe pressure. The central bank has been forced to assure people their savings are safe, while the finance minister said Ukraine was repaying its debts and would continue to do so.

"Ukraine is a reliable borrower and is flawlessly fulfilling, and will fulfil, all of its obligations on time," Yuri Kolobov said in a recorded message broadcast by state television on Tuesday.

The cost of insuring Ukraine's debt against default rose to near highs not seen since late 2009. The government must find more than $17 billion in 2014 to meet gas bills and debt repayments.

"I ask Yanukovich - resign!" Vitaly Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion and now leader of the opposition Udar (Punch) party, told the parliament.

"Don't do anything stupid - don't drive yourself and the country into a dead end."

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