Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said a decision to suspend moves to sign a landmark trade deal with the European Union had been a difficult one to take and forced by economic necessity.

At the same time, Yanukovich, who was to have signed the far-reaching agreement with the EU at a summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on Friday, said in a television address that there was no alternative but to create “a society of European standards” in Ukraine.

Yanukovich’s government stunned European leaders last Thursday by announcing it was suspending preparations for the signing in Vilnius and said it would revive dialogue instead with Russia which had objected to the deal.

The government’s announcement triggered pro-Europe demonstrations on the streets of the capital Kiev and isolated clashes with police. (Reuters)