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Ukraine's prime minister warned protesters trying to blockade government buildings on Wednesday they would be punished for any "illegal acts", as officials went to Moscow seeking aid to avoid a financial meltdown.
Meeting the Ukrainian delegation, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said their country needed "stability and order", in the two sides' first high-level talks since Kiev pulled out of a planned trade alliance with the European Union, provoking mass protests.
Prime minister Mykola Azarov also accused the opposition of trying to provoke violence, and tension remained high in Kiev with protesters confronting ranks of black-helmeted riot police in front of President Viktor Yanukovich's main offices after his government's U-turn in trade policy back towards Russia.
The crisis has again exposed a tug-of-war playing out in Ukraine, which has oscillated between the EU and former master Moscow since the "Orange Revolution" nine years ago which overthrew the post-Soviet political order.
The leader of the far-right nationalist party, Svoboda, announced a march on Wednesday to the interior ministry, but no clashes between protesters and riot police were reported.
With foreign ministers from the OSCE human rights watchdog arriving in Kiev for a two-day meeting from Thursday, Azarov tried to project an image of being in control in the absence of Yanukovich, who has gone to China for an official visit.
Urging all political forces to avoid a further escalation of tension, Azarov said: "Everybody must realise that the country's constitution and laws are in force, nobody is allowed to violate them ... All those who are guilty of illegal acts will answer for them".
Azarov later accused the opposition of trying to stir up trouble. "We know there are 2,500 fighters who are being used as a force with which to provoke law enforcement structures to resist. We are showing that we do not use force, but the opposition does use force," he told the visiting secretary general of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland.
Despite the turmoil, Yanukovich flew to China on Tuesday and Chinese state media said he was visiting the Terracotta Warriors archaeological site and an aircraft factory in Xian.
Beijing has already provided Ukraine $10 billion in loans, but Kiev needs billions more next year for gas bills and debt repayments. China's foreign ministry made a noncommittal response to a query whether Beijing would provide any more aid to Ukraine.
In Moscow, the delegation led by a deputy prime minister, Yuri Boiko, was seeking lower prices for