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Tensions rise in Kiev after PM sends out warning

Ukraine's prime minister warned protesters trying to blockade government buildings yesterday they would be punished for any "illegal acts", as officials went to Moscow seeking aid to avoid a financial meltdown.

Meeting the Ukrainian delegation, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said their country needed "stability and order", in the two sides' first high-level talks since Kiev pulled out of a planned trade alliance with the European Union, provoking mass protests.

Prime minister Mykola Azarov also accused the opposition of trying to provoke violence, and tension remained high in Kiev with protesters confronting ranks of black-helmeted riot police in front of President Viktor Yanukovich's main offices after his government's U-turn in trade policy back towards Russia.

The crisis has again exposed a tug-of-war playing out in Ukraine, which has oscillated between the EU Moscow since the "Orange Revolution" nine years ago.

The leader of the far-right nationalist party, Svoboda, announced a march yesterday to the interior ministry, but no clashes between protesters and riot police were reported.

With foreign ministers from the OSCE human rights watchdog arriving in Kiev for a two-day meeting from today, Azarov tried to project an image of being in control in the absence of Yanukovich, who has gone to China for an official visit.

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