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Europe

Fresh clashes in Kiev as EU foreign ministers fly in for crisis talks

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-20

Fresh clashes between demonstrators and security forces erupted in Ukraine on Thursday, with armed protesters charging police barricades despite a truce called just hours earlier by the country's embattled president.

Protesters at Kiev’s Independence Square, which they have occupied since the start of Ukraine's three-month-old political crisis, pushed the police back about 200 metres and were in control of most of the square, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.

Police used rubber bullets to try and repel the attack while protesters pelted them with Molotov cocktails and rocks.

The new violence comes as the French, German and Polish foreign ministers were due to arrive in Kiev to hold crisis talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, following a brutal police crackdown on protesters that left at least 26 people dead.

Later, EU foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting Brussels in which they are likely to call for sanctions to be taken against those responsible for the violence.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that he, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski would hold meetings in Kiev “to gather the latest information before the meeting in Brussels”.

Meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Fabius called on all sides to "return to dialogue" and condemned the police crackdown on protesters at Kiev’s Independence Square.

"What happened was completely unacceptable.... The perpetrators of these acts cannot go without sanctions," Fabius said.

Wednesday saw ambassadors from the EU’s 28 states discuss imposing asset freezes and travel bans on Ukrainians responsible for violence, particularly government officials but potentially some protest leaders too, diplomats said.

The ambassadors reached no agreement, however, and have left it up to foreign ministers to decide at a hastily convened meeting on Thursday whether to back sanctions, the diplomats said.

But European leaders have left little doubt that sanctions are on the cards, despite Yanukovich’s announcement Wednesday that he had agreed a “truce” with opposition leaders “with the aim of ending bloodshed”.

French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday they wanted the EU to impose targeted sanctions on Ukraine as soon as possible, condemning the "unspeakable, unacceptable acts" in Kiev.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he told Yanukovich in a phone call on Wednesday that Europe remained open to developing its relationship with Ukraine, but “there will undoubtedly be consequences, especially for those who used violence or excessive force”.

The United States has already imposed visa bans on 20 senior Ukrainian government officials believed to be responsible for the violence against protesters.

Breaking off dialogue

Just three months ago, EU officials had hoped Ukraine would sign a far-reaching trade and cooperation deal with Brussels, provided certain conditions were met, including the release of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

But Yanukovich stunned the EU in late November by spurning the EU trade deal and instead winning a $15 billion bailout deal from Russia. That move sparked weeks of street protests.

This week’s explosion of violence in Kiev was a blow to EU hopes that it could help broker a peaceful settlement.

One EU diplomat said that a group of countries, including Greece, Portugal, Spain, Britain and the Netherlands, were cautious about going ahead with sanctions because of concern about breaking off dialogue with the Ukrainians.

Some officials worry that sanctions have not been effective in the past, notably in Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbour.

But other diplomats said consensus was building in favour of sanctions.

“Nobody is willing to let the ministers fly in tomorrow and achieve nothing. But specific decisions will have to be taken after we get feedback from the three ministers who went to Kiev,” said another diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He said those discussed as possible targets for sanctions included oligarchs, as well as some ministers, possibly defence, justice or interior, but no decision had been made.

Diplomats said Yanukovich himself was unlikely to be singled out for sanctions for now because EU governments did not want to close off dialogue with him.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

Date created : 2014-02-20

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