EU imposes Ukraine sanctions after deadly Kiev clashes

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Dozens of anti-government protesters died in Kiev on Thursday. Many were reportedly killed by snipers. Reuters
The European Union has agreed to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on Ukrainian officials who are deemed responsible for the violence in the country, according to EU foreign ministers and officials.
The EU foreign ministers held an emergency meeting on Thursday in Brussels on the deadly violence going on in Ukraine. 
"In light of the deteriorating situation, the EU has decided as a matter of urgency to introduce targeted sanctions including asset freeze and visa ban against those responsible for human rights violations, violence and use of excessive force," Catherine Ashton, EU foreign affairs and security policy chief, said in a news conference after the meeting, reading the EU statement.
"Member states agreed to suspend [Ukrainian] export licences on equipment which might be used for internal repression."
Speaking as she left the Brussels gathering, Emma Bonino, the Italian foreign minister, said that the EU sanctions would be imposed very rapidly.
"The decision is to proceed very rapidly, in the next hours, to a visa ban and asset freeze on those who have committed the violence," she told reporters.
She also said EU member states also agreed to offer medical assistance and visas to the injured and to dissidents.
Bonino said the position had been agreed with the French, German and Polish foreign ministers, who are currently in Kiev negotiating with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
The three foreign ministers, who met Yanukovych in Kiev on Thursday, have extended their stay until Friday. They were reporting back to the emergency ministerial EU meeting in Brussels.
An EU diplomat told Reuters news agency that the number of people on the list however "will depend on developments on the ground".
The US state department had already announced visa bans on 20 members of the Ukrainian government but has not provided any names.
Late on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden warned President Yanukovych in a telephone conversation that Washington was ready to impose sanctions against Ukrainian officials guilty of ordering troops to fire on protesters.
The call came amid reports that dozens of people were killed in a new escalation of clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces in central Kyiv on Thursday.
Quoting the protesters\’ top medic, the Associated Press is reporting that up to 70 activists have been killed and 500 injured so far. Some of those killed were reportedly shot by government snipers.
Ukraine\’s Interior Ministry, meanwhile, reported that three police officers were killed Thursday. It said more than 50 police personnel had been hospitalized during the day, 30 of them with gunshot wounds. The ministry also said that protesters had captured 67 policemen.
Elsewhere, television footage from the western city of Lviv showed scenes of chaos, as anti-government protesters firebombed government buildings and some police declined to intervene.
Thursday\’s violence erupted just hours after President Viktor Yanukovych announced a truce with opposition leaders.
Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko said Thursday that police have been issued "combat weapons" to protect citizens and property from attacks, and for self-defense.
He called on "extremists" among the protesters to hand over their weapons and called on opposition leaders to "disassociate themselves" from "the radicals."
In Moscow, the Kremlin announced that President Vladimir Putin was sending his human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, to Ukraine to mediate talks between President Yanukovych and the opposition. According to the Kremlin, the step was taken at the Ukrainian president\’s request..
President Yanukovych and the leaders of anti-government protests had agreed on a truce Wednesday. A statement on President Viktor Yanukovych\’s website said it is aimed at "ending the bloodshed and stabilizing the situation …in the interests of social peace."  It did not provide details. The opposition claims Yanukovych was trying to use the truce to allow for more security forces to be moved into Kyiv.
Hours before Wednesday\’s truce had been announced, the president fired his army chief and Ukraine\’s military declared a nationwide crackdown on what it called "extremist groups."  Yanukovych – the target of the protests – offered no explanation for the dismissal.
Separately, the Security Service of Ukraine announced an "anti-terrorist" operation, saying "radical elements" in the country had overrun government arms depots and seized weapons and munitions.  Local media quoted officials as saying they fear those stockpiles are being transported to the capital for use by protesters trying to force Yanukovych from power.
Security Service chief Oleksandr Yakymenko said municipal buildings, security offices and arms depots had been raided around the country.  He said 1,500 firearms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition had wound up "in the hands of criminals" over a 24-hour period.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko has called on police and soldiers to join the protesters.
"All who will switch sides and join the people, will have security guarantees," said he.
In a YouTube video statement, the former world boxing champion-turned politician also called on those in uniform to remember the oath they took.
"Don\’t allow yourselves to be used as tools in this war against the people, whom you swore to serve and protect. Show your human side! Refuse to execute unlawful orders by the authorities, against whom the country has risen up," said Klitschko.
He added that Yanukovych is not worth such sacrifice.
In an apparent sign of Yanukovych\’s eroding support, his hand-picked acting mayor of Kyiv, Volodymyr Makeyenko, announced Thursday that he was resigning from Yanukovych\’s ruling Party of Regions in protest over the \’bloodshed\’ in the capital.
Unrest broke out in Ukraine last year when Yanukovich rejected a free-trade agreement with the European Union and opted for a $15bn package of Russian credits and cheaper gas to support Ukraine\’s ailing economy in November.
Source: Agencies

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