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US, Europe condemn Ukraine violence, threaten sanctions, while Moscow blames West

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BRUSSELS - Following the deadly clashes in Ukraine's capital, the Obama administration and European governments are talking about imposing punitive sanctions, the Kremlin has blamed the West for stirring up trouble and the pope has issued a special appeal for peace. A roundup of Wednesday's international reactions:


EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso expressed "shock and utter dismay" at the violence that erupted Tuesday in Kyiv, blaming Ukraine's political leadership and predicting the 28-nation EU will impose sanctions as a result.

"We therefore expect that targeted measures against those responsible for violence and use of excessive force can be agreed by our member states as a matter of urgency," Barroso said in a statement.

EU foreign ministers were summoned to an emergency meeting in Brussels on Thursday to decide on the bloc's course of action. Barroso's office said he also phoned Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to warn that the EU will "react firmly to the deterioration of the situation."


The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the West for the escalation of violence and called on the Ukrainian opposition to work with the government to find an exit from the crisis. It said the West has fueled the violence by failing to clearly condemn the radicals who attacked police.

"What's going on is the direct result of the policy of connivance on behalf of Western politicians and European structures, which from the very start of the crisis have turned a blind eye to the aggressive actions of radical forces in Ukraine, encouraging them to engage in escalation and provocations against the legitimate government," it said.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia views the developments in Ukraine as a "coup attempt." He denied Putin was giving Yanukovych any advice on how to handle the crisis, and said it is up to the Ukrainian government to determine the course of action to defuse the crisis.


President Barack Obama urged Ukraine to avoid violence against peaceful protesters or face consequences, as the United States considered joining European partners to impose sanctions aimed at ending the deadly street clashes.

"There will be consequences if people step over the line," Obama said Wednesday shortly after landing in Mexico for a summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. "And that includes making sure that the Ukrainian military does not step into what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians."

Secretary of State John Kerry, in Paris for meetings with the French foreign minister and other officials, said he was disturbed by the level of abuse demonstrated by the Ukrainian government and protesters.

"We are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps in order to create the atmosphere for compromise," Kerry said. He said the situation is bad but that there's room for dialogue and that it's up Yanukovych to decide the future of his country


At a joint news conference in Paris, French President Francois Hollande vowed that those who started the deadly violence in Ukraine "will be sanctioned," while German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the need for dialogue "because only political dialogue can really bring political progress"

Hollande said the sanctions to be considered by EU foreign ministers must be "targeted, specific and gradual to weigh on the process" of ending violence. They must be aimed at those who started the "intolerable acts," he said, adding that identifying those responsible takes time, raising the question of whether immediate EU measures are feasible.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters that he and his counterparts from Germany and Poland would travel to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian government officials and opposition leaders before the EU meeting Thursday. Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, posted on Twitter that he was already en route for Ukraine's capital.


Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in a Twitter post on Wednesday: "We must be clear: Ultimate responsibility for deaths and violence is with President Yanukovych. He has blood on his hands."


Pope Francis issued an appeal for peace in Ukraine at the end of his general audience on Wednesday, speaking to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square. "With a troubled soul, I am following what is happening these days in Kyiv," he said. "I assure my closeness to the Ukrainian people and pray for the victims of the violence, for their relatives and for the injured. I invite all sides to stop any violent action and to look for harmony and peace in the country."


Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino joined European colleagues in a renewed appeal to Ukrainian authorities for the end of "violent, indiscriminate and disproportional reactions to people's protests, which must be carried out peacefully, within the confines of legality." If violence continues, he said, "we don't exclude the recourse to exceptional restrictive measures."


The government said it was in favour of EU sanctions against Kyiv. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said Ukraine's president should be one of those targeted.

"Mr. Yanukovych is a key government representative of Ukraine," Sobotka said.


Romanian President Traian Basescu warned the protests in Ukraine could spread instability throughout the region, particularly in neighbouring Moldova.

"I want you to understand that the destabilization of Ukraine is not serious just for Romania, but the whole of Europe will be affected," Basescu said, adding that he had passed on his concerns to U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and Barroso, the EU commission president.

Basescu also said Romania would be willing to take in refugees from the crisis.


Members of the parliament, based in Strasbourg, France, adopted a non-binding resolution urging EU member nations to prepare sanctions such as freezing assets of "Ukrainian officials, legislators and oligarchs personally responsible for the attacks on and deaths of protesters."


Canada closed its embassy in Kyiv after protesters entered the building on Tuesday amid the violent crackdown outside.

Adam Hodge, a spokesman for Canada's foreign affairs minister, said Wednesday the embassy would be closed until further notice as a security precaution, and to ensure the protection of staff. Canada has also threatened sanctions.

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