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Ukraine's Tymoshenko ends hunger strike at pro-EU protesters' behest

By Victoria Butenko and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 11:58 AM EST, Fri December 6, 2013
Protesters look out over an anti-government rally in Independence Square on Tuesday in Kiev, Ukraine.
Protesters look out over an anti-government rally in Independence Square on Tuesday in Kiev, Ukraine.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yulia Tymoshenko has ended a hunger strike, opposition party cites her daughter as saying
  • Eugenia Tymoshenko says her mother is very weak after what is her third hunger strike
  • She stopped her fast at the request of anti-government protesters, Eugenia says
  • Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich meets with Russia's Vladimir Putin

Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) -- Imprisoned Ukrainian opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has ended her 12-day hunger strike, Ukraine's Batkivschyna opposition party said Friday.

Tymoshenko's daughter, Eugenia Tymoshenko, visited her mother at the prison where she is held in Kharkov, according to the party.

Eugenia said after her visit that her mother is "very weak now; she almost does not get up from bed. This is because it is her third hunger strike in a short period of time."

Eugenia said many people, including European and world leaders, had asked her mother to stop the hunger strike, according to the Batkivschyna party.

But her mother's decision followed a request by protesters who have been demonstrating in Kiev's Independence Square for Ukraine's integration with the European Union, her daughter told the party.

"She stopped her hunger strike upon the request of the people on the square. They asked her to take care of her life, her health, so she could be with us," Eugenia Tymoshenko said.

The government of President Viktor Yanukovich suspended talks with the European Union last month, angering many Ukrainians who say an EU agreement would have opened borders to trade and set the stage for modernization and inclusion.

The subsequent protests are the biggest in Ukraine since the so-called Orange Revolution nine years ago, a populist movement that toppled the government.

The battle over Ukraine: Toward a new geopolitical game

About 7,000 people were protesting in the capital, Kiev, as of Friday morning, police said. The crowds often swell in size in the evenings as people leave work and join the protest.

While many have been demonstrating in Independence, or Maidan, Square, others have rallied outside the Cabinet Office, the presidential office and other government offices.

Larger rallies are planned for the weekend.

Chief among Yanukovich's reasons for backpedaling on the EU talks was Russia's opposition to it. Russia threatened its neighbor with trade sanctions and steep gas bills if it forged ahead with an EU deal but promised deep discounts on natural gas if it were to join the Moscow-led Customs Union instead.

Yanukovich was also facing an EU demand that he was unwilling to meet: free Tymoshenko, his chief political opponent.

The Orange Revolution that swept him from office in 2004, when he was prime minister, also swept Tymoshenko to power.

Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison two years ago after being convicted of abuse of authority over a natural gas deal negotiated with Russia in 2009. The United States and Europe see the punishment as politically motivated.

Yanukovich met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Russia on Friday, against the backdrop of the anti-government protests.

Putin and Yanukovich discussed the strategic partnership between the two countries, Yanukovich's office said.

Yanukovich also canceled a planned trip to Malta -- a European Union member -- "due to the necessity to focus attention on the internal political issues," his office said.

Journalist Victoria Butenko reported from Kiev, and CNN's Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN's Marie-Louise Gumuchian contributed to this report.

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