BRUSSELS — In a sharp rebuke to President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine, the European Union on Monday called for the formation of a new, inclusive government and constitutional reforms that would lead to “free and fair presidential elections.”
The bloc’s 28 foreign ministers said in a joint statement they were “alarmed by the human rights situation, including violence, cases of missing persons, torture, and intimidation’’ as part of the authorities’ crackdown against the ongoing protests, reflecting an “atmosphere of impunity.”
Ukraine has been rocked by nearly three months of antigovernment protests sparked by Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an agreement with the EU and to instead accept a $15 billion loan package from Russia.
The political deadlock is also pushing Ukraine’s economy closer to the brink; its currency and foreign reserves are tumbling.
Moscow has suspended Ukraine’s loan payments.
The ministers at their meeting in Brussels reiterated the EU stands ready to assist Ukraine financially, provided a new government will be formed to “pursue economic and political reforms.”
The European Union has shied away from imposing sanctions such as travel bans or asset freezes against the Ukrainian leadership, but the foreign ministers’ demand for constitutional reform and fresh elections reflected the bloc’s growing impatience.
“A new and inclusive government, constitutional reform bringing back more balance of powers, and preparation for free and fair presidential elections would contribute to bringing Ukraine back on a sustainable path of reforms,” they said.
Separately, the foreign ministers decided to start negotiations with Cuba to upgrade the EU’s ties with the Caribbean island nation. The EU’s foreign policy chief, however, cautioned that progress will depend on Cuba’s determination to implement further reforms toward opening its economy and respecting fundamental rights.
The EU resumed low-level contacts with Cuba in 2008, two years after Raul Castro became president and started granting Cubans some more freedom.
While Washington’s relations with Cuba are defined by the 52-year-old trade embargo, European nations have long traded with Cuba and thousands of Europeans flock to the island’s beaches every year.
In a separate development Monday, the daughter of Ukraine’s imprisoned former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, said a court is set to consider a defense appeal to ease conditions in custody.
Eugenia Tymoshenko said her mother wants permission to use a cellphone and to take walks outside prison. A court in the eastern city of Kharkiv where Tymoshenko is serving her sentence is to consider the appeal Tuesday.
The European Union has condemned the jailing of Tymoshenko as political and urged Yanukovych to free her. Yanukovych refused, and in November he spurned a landmark pact with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia, triggering massive protests.
An extensive community has been established around the protests in Kiev, including field kitchens, first-aid stations, and clothes distribution booths.
There is even an improvised library in one of the buildings seized by demonstrators, which many protesters visit when they want to get away from the barricades.
Shelves with about 2,000 books have been crammed into a hallway of Ukrainian House, an exhibition center and former Lenin museum that protesters took over two weeks ago after attacking it with rocks and firebombs to drive out police who were sheltering there.
In this library, no one hushes the patrons and tough, young men holding clubs confront unfamiliar people.