The United Stated threatened sanctions against Ukraine over its deployment of riot police on Wednesday and warned Kiev against using the army in its crackdown against anti-government protesters.
In some of the strongest comments from Washington so far into Ukraine's three-week protest movement, the US urged President Viktor Yanukovich to listen to demonstrators and resume the country's integration with Europe.
US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of "disgust" at Kiev's use of force against protesters and a spokeswoman for his department said Washington was considering sanctions against Ukraine, among other options.
"We are considering policy options, there obviously has not been a decision made, sanctions are included but I am not going to outline specifics," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel also warned Kiev against using military force on demonstrators "in any fashion" and urged restraint.
In a call with his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Lebedyev, Hagel warned of the "potential damage of any involvement by the military in breaking up the demonstrations," Pentagon spokesman Carl Woog said in a statement.
Lebedyev said he would pass along the message directly to Yanukovich, who is facing calls for his resignation over his decision to scrap a trade deal with the European Union and steer Ukraine closer to Russia.
Yanukovich had vowed earlier that the authorities would never use force against peaceful protests.
His promise came hours after several dozen people were injured when riot police and interior ministry special forces moved against the demonstrators who occupy Kiev's Independence Square.
Cookies for protesters
In recent days, Washington has upped its stand on the demonstrations in the Ukrainian capital, urging Yanukovich to listen to the voices of the people.
US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited Kiev for the second time in a matter of days on Wednesday, and in a show of support, handed out cakes and cookies to protesters.
"It's important to convey our support for their ability to voice their views, support for their efforts on European integration, our belief that respect for democratic principles, including freedom of assembly, is a universal right," Psaki said.
Nuland had been sending a "strong message on the ground" that Ukraine needed to get "back into a conversation with Europe" and with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ensure it was "bringing justice and dignity to the people of Ukraine," the spokeswoman added.
Protesters stood their ground on Wednesday. There were scuffles and arrests, but demonstrators forced riot police to retreat from nearby the City Hall.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)
Date created : 2013-12-12