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Washington (AFP) – The White House said Monday that it did not consider peaceful demonstrations in Ukraine as attempts at a coup, and called violent suppression of protests by police unacceptable.

“We certainty don’t consider peaceful demonstrations coup attempts,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney after Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the protests bore all the hallmarks of a coup.

Carney described violence by Ukrainian authorities against demonstrators on Saturday as “unacceptable” but noted that police had generally been more restrained since then.

But he added: “There have been a number of disturbing reports of journalists and members of the media being targeted and assaulted by security forces. We urge Ukraine’s leaders to respect their people’s rights to the freedom of expression and assembly. These are fundamental to a healthy democracy and respect of universal values on which the United States partnership with Ukraine depends.”

Tens of thousands of people have been protesting in Kiev, occupying City Hall and blocking entrances to the government headquarters, in an ongoing standoff after the government failed to sign a key EU pact.

Ex-Soviet republic Ukraine was meant to sign an agreement to bring closer ties with the EU at a summit last month but President Viktor Yanukovych backed out at the last minute, citing pressure from Moscow.

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