BRUSSELS -- In a sharp rebuke to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the European Union on Monday called for formation of a new, inclusive government and constitutional reforms that would pave the way to "free and fair presidential elections."
The bloc's 28 foreign ministers said in a joint statement that they were "alarmed by the human rights situation, including violence, cases of missing persons, torture and intimidation," as part of authorities' crackdown against the ongoing protests, reflecting an "atmosphere of impunity."
Ukraine has been rocked by nearly three months of anti-government protests sparked by Mr. Yanukovych's refusal to sign an agreement with the EU and his acceptance instead of 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, while Moscow has suspended its loan payments.
The ministers at their meeting in Brussels reiterated that the EU stands ready to assist Ukraine financially, provided a new, inclusive government will be formed to "pursue economic and political reforms."
The EU has so far 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 cautioned that progress will depend on Cuba's determination to implement further reforms.