BERLIN - Germany said Monday that mass anti-government rallies in Kiev showed that "the heart of the Ukrainian people beats in a European way" and voiced concern about violence against protesters.
Ukraine's biggest pro-democracy rallies since the 2004 Orange Revolution have demanded President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster over his rejection, under Russian pressure, of a pact seeking closer ties between the ex-Soviet state and the EU.
"The demonstrations are an impressive commitment to Europe by hundreds of thousands of people in Ukraine," said a statement by Germany's outgoing Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
"They show that the heart of the Ukrainian people beats in a European way."
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said "the demonstrations send a very clear message. Hopefully Ukrainian President Yanukovych is hearing this message".
"For the (German) government it is very impressive to see how many people in Ukraine are willing to stand up for their convictions, for their dream of a Ukraine that shares Europe's idea about the rule of law and its values and who therefore seek closer ties, closer relations with Europe," Seibert told a press conference.
The spokesman added that "the use of violence against peaceful protesters must be a cause for concern", urged all sides to avoid further escalation, and called on Ukraine's government to protect the rights to free speech and assembly.
The economically struggling nation of 46 million was thrown into crisis when Yanukovych snubbed EU leaders at a summit on Friday and refused a deal that would have paved Ukraine's way to eventual membership in the 28-nation bloc.
EU leaders primarily blamed the decision on the stinging economic punishments Russia had mooted should Ukraine take the fateful step toward the West.