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EU ministers seek ways to defuse Ukraine crisis

BRUSSELS (AP) -- European foreign ministers on Monday sought ways to foster a solution to the crisis engulfing Ukraine, saying nearly three months of protests show the need for the government to reach a political compromise with the opposition.

Talks so far in Ukraine have yet to yield progress and despite President Viktor Yanukovych's strategy of trying to buy time, he can't avoid discussing reforming the country's constitution, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter-Steinmeier said.

“The people in Ukraine won't accept bad compromises,” he said, referring to the anti-government demonstrations that drew tens of thousands into the streets of Kiev again over the weekend.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was to brief the 28 foreign ministers at their meeting in Brussels about her two days of talks with the Ukrainian leadership and the opposition last week.

Ukraine has been rocked by nearly three months of anti-government protests sparked by Yanukovych's refusal to sign an agreement with the EU and accept a $15 billion loan package from Russia instead. The political deadlock is also pushing Ukraine's economy closer to the brink, and its currency and foreign reserves are tumbling.

Separately, the foreign ministers decided to start negotiations with Cuba to upgrade the EU's ties with the Caribbean island nation. The EU's foreign policy chief, however, cautioned that progress will depend on Cuba's determination to implement further reforms toward opening its economy and respecting fundamental rights.

The EU resumed low-level contacts with Cuba in 2008, two years after Raul Castro became president and started granting Cubans some more freedom.

While Washington's relations with Cuba are defined by the 52-year-old trade embargo, European nations have long traded with Cuba and thousands of Europeans flock to the island's beaches every year.

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Follow Juergen Baetz on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jbaetz

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