US Senator McCain meets opposition leaders in Ukraine

US Senator John McCain exiting a hotel after meeting with Ukrainian opposition leaders including former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, in Kiev on Dec 14, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
US Senator John McCain exiting a hotel after meeting with Ukrainian opposition leaders including former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, in Kiev on Dec 14, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

KIEV (AFP) - Outspoken United States Senator John McCain met Ukraine opposition leaders including former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko in the capital Kiev on Saturday, Dec 14, 2013, ahead of a mass rally.

Mr McCain met Mr Klitschko, the head of the UDAR party, as well as nationalist leader Oleg Tyagnybok and the leader of the party of jailed Yulia Tymoshenko, Mr Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Mr McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee who lost the White House race to Mr Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter that they had a "good conversation and dinner".

Tymoshenko's party hinted that Mr McCain would speak at a major opposition rally in Kiev on Sunday, writing in a statement that it would feature "foreign guests, particularly American senators".

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who chairs the Senate's Europe sub-committee, accompanied Mr McCain to Ukraine.

Mr McCain later viewed the central Independence Square where opposition supporters have set up camps and built barricades.

Posting a photograph of tens of thousands filling the square on Saturday evening for a concert dedicated to the protest movement by Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy, Mr McCain called it "an incredible show of patriotism".

The US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt later posted on Twitter a picture of Mr McCain meeting the band's lead singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, who was one of the symbols of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Mr McCain has strongly condemned the Ukrainian government over its handling of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of a broad trade deal with the European Union in pursuit of closer ties with Russia.

He criticised the Ukrainian authorities for using force after heavy-handed riot police attempted to disperse protesters on Independence Square on Wednesday.

"It is appalling that Ukrainian authorities have chosen to use violence and oppression against peaceful demonstrators," he said in a statement.

The United States has made its solidarity with Ukraine's opposition clear, even threatening sanctions after Wednesday's failed police raid on protesters.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday accused Western countries of losing "their sense of reality" over Ukraine's crisis and using blackmail to cut the country off from Russia.