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Politics Harper condemns Ukrainian government for crackdown on protesters

A protester stands between riot police and protesters during a clash in front of an administrative building in Chernihiv, about 150 kilometers (94 miles) north Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014.

Osman Karimov/AP

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has condemned the Ukrainian government for a crackdown on protestors that he says harkens back to the country's Soviet past.

The statements have placed Mr. Harper clearly on the side of pro-European protestors in the latest clashes.

Two months of protests have in the past week intensified to pitched battles with police, after the government of President Viktor Yanukovich passed sweeping anti-protest legislation.

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Mr. Harper, speaking aboard a Canadian Forces Airbus as he returned from a week-long trip to the Middle East, said the government is concerned about the growing conflict and violence in the Ukraine.

"At the same time, we understand that this violence is occurring because the majority of the population is very worried by the steps taken by their government that very much remind them of their anti-democratic and Soviet past, and the government of Canada very much shares the concerns of the majority of the Ukrainian population," he said.

The Ukrainian protests were sparked when Mr. Yanukovich's government pulled out of a planned political partnership agreement in November and instead accepted a bailout from Vladimir Putin's Russia. That has triggered a sharp debate over whether the Ukraine's future lies with Europe, or Russia.

Mr. Harper said Canada will continue to work with allies to determine the appropriate response. The European Union has been meeting to consider a diplomatic response, while Russia has complained that western nations are meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs.

It's also a debate that has watchers in Canada, in a sizable Ukrainian-Canadian community, notably in Saskatchewan and in Toronto, many of whom follow the upheavals in Ukrainian politics closely.

Harper said two Conservative MPs, Ted Opitz and James Bezan, have asked for the House of Commons to hold an emergency debate after it returns to session on Monday.

The Commons just had a debate on the Ukrainian protests in December.

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