KIEV: The powerful Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarch Filaret warned Wednesday that continued violence in Kiev could lead to a civil conflict and called on the government to sign a pact with the European Union.
"Force will only radicalise the protest and cause our country to slide into a full-scale civil conflict," the Patriarch said in a statement, calling for dialogue between the government, the opposition and society, and a "moratorium on use of force."
The government's refusal to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union sparked the biggest protests in Ukraine since the 2004 Orange Revolution.
"Considering that putting off the signing of the EU Association Agreement was the initial reason for civic protests, the most reasonable exit from the crisis is a quick conclusion of negotiations and signing this agreement," Filaret said.
Filaret, 84, has been the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's Kiev Patriarchate since it separated from the Moscow Patriarchate in the early 1990.
About half of Orthodox Ukrainians, mostly in central and western Ukraine, associate with his church, which is the main religious force in the country that also has a sizeable Catholic population.
Filaret has supported the protest on Independence Square and the Church's Mikhailovsky monastery sheltered and tended to protesters after police swept the square on December 1, causing injuries.