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US, Europe Condemn Violence in Ukraine, Consider Sanctions

US, Europe Condemn Violence in Ukraine, Consider Sanctionsi
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February 20, 2014
Witnesses in the Ukrainian capital say at least 17 people have been killed in fresh clashes that erupted between anti-government protesters and police, hours after President Viktor Yanukovych announced a truce with opposition leaders. Zlatica Hoke reports
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Zlatica Hoke
The United States and the European Union are considering sanctions against senior government officials in Ukraine in response to Tuesday's bloodshed in the capital.  At least 26 people were killed in clashes between the protesters and police forces sent to dismantle their camps from central Kyiv. 

Many accuse the government of excessive use of force as word comes of a truce between the government and leaders of the opposition.

Images of deadly clashes and Kyiv engulfed in flames Tuesday night shocked the world.  The two sides blame each other for the escalation of violence that caused death and destruction; but, U.S. President Barack Obama and many Western European leaders have made it clear that they hold the Ukrainian government responsible.

"Along with our European partners, we will continue to engage all sides.  And we continue to stress to [Ukrainian] President [Viktor] Yanukovych and the Ukrainian govenment that they have the primary responsibility to prevent the kind of terrible violence that we've seen, to withdraw riot police, to work with the opposition to restore security and human dignity and move the country forward," said President Obama.

German and French leaders condemned the violence at a joint news conference in Paris Wednesday, hours before word came of a truce between Ukrainian's government and opposition.

EU foreign ministers have scheduled an emergency meeting for Thursday in Brussels to address Ukraine's situation and discuss sanctions.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso conveyed a message to Ukraine's leaders.

"We believe the political leadership of the country has the responsibility to ensure the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms," said Barroso.

The French, German and Polish foreign ministers are meeting with members of the Ukrainian government and the opposition Thursday for talks on the unrest.  

Hundreds of people have been injured, some of them brutally beaten.  Among them, U.S. citizen George Sajewych, former VOA producer, who traveled to Ukraine to participate in the protests.

"I just got clubbed all over; on the head, broke my arm in two places.  Finally I fell on the ground, and the rule, is you can't hit a guy on the ground, you're not supposed to, it's against the rule of something or other, maybe even the United Nations," said Sajewych.

United Nations human rights official Ivan Simonovic called the situation in Ukraine extremely disturbing.

"It’s our firm position, that because of possible excessive use of force, there must be credible, impartial and international investigations," said Simonovic.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych dismissed the head of the armed forces, Volodymyr Zamana, a day after deadly confrontations turned the capital into a battle zone.

The protests started relatively peacefully after President Yanukovych last November refused to sign a political and economic deal with the European Union, saying the bloc did not offer enough assistance to cash-strapped Ukraine.  In December, he reached a $15 billion loan deal with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed Ukraine's opposition for the Tuesday violence, calling it an attempt by extremists to overthrow the government.

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