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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pressure Mounts on Kuchma as EU Team Visits

KIEV — The European Union is concerned about press freedom in Ukraine and the case of missing journalist Georgy Gongadze but is unlikely to impose sanctions, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh said Tuesday.

Lindh, in Ukraine with a top-level EU delegation for a two-day visit to discuss economic and political ties, said the EU would make clear its worries about Gongadze and call for an extensive probe.

"We will be emphasizing our cooperation and partnership with Ukraine, but also our concern for recent developments and the Gongadze case, of which we would like to see a thorough investigation," Lindh told reporters at Kiev's Boryspil airport.

But the EU would refrain from sanctions to press its case.

"I do not foresee any sanctions, but I foresee that the government will really do whatever it can to improve the situation, both concerning this special case and the media situation in general," said the Swedish foreign minister, whose government holds the rotating EU presidency.

Ukraine is witnessing its biggest political scandal in a decade, the Gongadze case, which draws attention to its record on human rights and press freedom.

The Internet journalist, who was critical of President Leonid Kuchma, disappeared last year. A decapitated corpse that friends and relatives believe to be that of Gongadze was found in November. Opposition politicians claim audio tapes show that Kuchma and other senior officials plotted Gongadze's kidnapping.

Kuchma denies all involvement and has accused outsiders of trying to destabilize the country. He says the tapes have been edited to put words into his mouth.

Some 5,000 people marched through Kiev on Sunday, demanding Kuchma's resignation. However, political analysts in Ukraine believe Kuchma is unlikely to be toppled soon, despite mounting pressure.

Lindh, part of a delegation including EU foreign and security affairs chief Javier Solana, commissioner for external relations Chris Patten and Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, said she believed Ukraine would make efforts to improve press freedom.

The group held discussions with Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko, Kuchma and was expected to meet later in the day with parliament speaker Ivan Pliushch and Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, as well as with foreign ambassadors to Ukraine.

The EU is anxious to help stabilize Ukraine, which has a population of 50 million and will share a long border with the union after the accession of Poland and other former communist states from Eastern Europe over the next few years.

The EU delegation's trip comes hard on the heels of a visit to Dnipropetrovsk by President Vladimir Putin, who signed a string of bilateral economic cooperation agreements Monday.

The leader of Ukraine's nationalist Rukh movement, Gennadiy Udovenko, who is usually suspicious of Moscow's friendly gestures or economic deals, said the EU visit "annuls yesterday's event in Dnipropetrovsk a little bit."

"The arrival of this delegation, to my mind, confirms Ukraine's European choice, its integration into European structures," Udovenko said.

He spoke at a rally by some 100 nationalists demanding the dismissal of Kuchma's top police and security officials.

On Monday, the United States added to the burden on Kuchma, calling again for a proper investigation of the Gongadze case.

"We have always expressed our concern about the case involving Mr. Gongadze, his disappearance," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in response to a question about whether he had any comment about Ukraine's political crisis.

"We've always urged an open investigation of the circumstances and urged the government to deal seriously with this case," Boucher said. "We've expressed our interest at the highest levels of the Ukrainian government repeatedly. … Frankly, we're troubled by the lack of progress to date in the investigation."

Also Monday, Interfax reported that a court has ordered a tent camp that has been a fixture of protests against Kuchma must be removed from downtown Kiev.

Since being erected in December, the camp has grown to about 30 tents, where protesters have lived in shifts.

The court said that according to Ukraine's Land Code, the tents may not be located in the Kiev's central Khreshchatyk street as it is a historical site, Interfax reported. (Reuters, AP)