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Washington (AFP) – The United States condemned a violent crackdown on a peaceful anti-government demonstration in Kiev Saturday and called on Ukraine’s leaders to respect their people’s right to free expression and assembly.

“These are fundamental to a healthy democracy and the respect for universal values on which the United States’ partnership with Ukraine depends,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “Violence and intimidation should have no place in today’s Ukraine.”

Truncheon-wielding police dispersed protesters calling for President Viktor Yanukovich to resign after he walked away from a key political and free trade deal with the EU that had been years in the making.

About 10,000 people had joined the rally in Kiev, one of the largest protests in Ukraine since the 2004 pro-West Orange Revolution.

“The United States condemns the violence by government authorities against peaceful demonstrators in Kiev today,” Psaki said. “We urge Ukraine’s leaders to respect their people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly.”

The United States called on the government to “protect the rights of all Ukrainians to express their views on their country’s future in a constructive and peaceful manner,” she said. “We continue to support the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to achieve a prosperous European democracy. European integration is the surest course to economic growth and strengthening Ukraine’s democracy.”

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