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Europe, US to offer financial aid to Ukraine, says EU official

BRUSSELS — The European Union and the United States are working on a plan for significant short-term financial assistance for Ukraine, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was quoted on Sunday as saying.

Opposition activists hope to bring down the Ukraine's president and are unmoved by concessions.

Ashton said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the package would be aimed at helping Ukraine get through a transition period during which a broad-based interim government could approve political and economic reforms and prepare for presidential elections, currently due next year.

The EU and the United States are "developing a plan - a Ukrainian Plan, I have suggested they call it - that looks at what do we need to do in different parts of the economy right now to make things better," the paper quoted Ashton as saying on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

Ukraine has been gripped by mass protests that have turned violent at times since President Viktor Yanukovich spurned a trade and cooperation agreement with the European Union last November in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Ukraine won a $15 billion bailout pledge from Russia to help its ailing economy. But after Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov quit last week, bowing to protesters' demands, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would wait until a new government was formed before fully implementing the agreement.

Ashton said the amount of the proposed EU-U.S. aid package had not yet been decided but said "the figures won't be small".

As Ukraine is on the brink of civil war, President Viktor Yanukovych takes sick leave. The presidential website says he has an acute respiratory illness and high fever. Calls for his resignation grow louder.

She said the package might not only consist of money but could also contain "guarantees" or help on investment or shoring up the currency, though she did not elaborate.

Unlike past EU aid promises, the package would not depend on Ukraine reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, Ashton was quoted as saying.

Ashton visited Ukraine last week to try to promote dialogue between the government and opposition and she is expected to return to Kiev on Tuesday.

—Reuters