Jailed Ukrainian opposition leader launches hunger strike, lawyer says

Jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has started a hunger strike to persuade President Viktor Yanukovich to sign a European Union trade agreement, according to Reuters.

"As a sign of unity with you, I declare an unlimited hunger strike with the demand to Yanukovich to sign the association agreement,'' Tymoshenko said in a message to pro-Europe demonstrators.

The statement was read by her defense lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko.

Tymoshenko was imprisoned in 2011 after a trial seen by Western governments as political, Reuters reported.

Yanukovich acted on Monday to defuse the demonstrators, saying a decision to suspend moves toward a trade pact with the E.U. had been difficult.

According to the report, Yanukovich said the decision had been forced by economic necessity.

"Today I would like to underline this: there is no alternative to the creation of a society of European standards in Ukraine and my policies on this path always have been, and will continue to be, consistent,'' he said.

The government surprised European leaders last week when it announced it was suspending preparation for the signing and said it would revive dialogue instead with Russia which had objected to the deal, Reuters reported.

The announcement caused protesters to clash with police on the streets.