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Pope Francis has called for an end to violence in Ukraine, where at least three people have been killed in clashes that have erupted from two months of anti-Government protests.
"I am close to Ukraine in prayer, in particular to those who have lost their lives in recent days and to their families," said Pope in his weekly Angelus in St Peter's Square on Sunday. "I hope that a constructive dialogue between the institutions and civil society can take place, that any resort to violence is avoided and that the spirit of peace and a search for the common good is in the hearts of all," he added.
President Viktor Yanukovych, whose refusal to sign a trade deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia sparked the protests in November, today accepted the resignation of the prime minister, Mykola Azarov, and his cabinet.
Mr Azarov, who was deeply unpopular with the opposition, hoped that his resignation would create a "social and political compromise".
On Friday church leaders met with President Yanukovych. Patriarch Filaret, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, along with the Greek Catholic Patriarch, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, offered to mediate in the current political crisis and made a plea for peace and reconciliation. Both leaders favour closer ties with the EU rather than Moscow.
Filaret stressed that the Government has the responsibility to make visible steps towards reconciliation. "If that side will not work toward reconciliation, the people have the right to defend themselves," Filaret concluded.
Ukraine's Greek Catholic Church has been recently warned by state authorities to shy away from involvement in the public protests and threatened by revision of its official registration.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York expressed strong support for anti-government protestors in Ukraine. Writing on his blog he summarised the conflict as “government thugs relishing the chance to bludgeon and harass the hundreds of thousands of patriotic Ukrainians,” and described the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as “a Church that had been starved, jackbooted, imprisoned, tortured, persecuted and martyred by Hitler, Stalin, and company.”