By Julian Pecquet - 02/20/14 11:34 AM EST
The White House declared Thursday it was “outraged” by the escalating violence in Ukraine and vowed it would hold those responsible “accountable.”
The escalating rhetoric follows reports that as many as 100 protesters might have been killed when riot police used automatic weapons to disperse pro-European demonstrators after a short-lived truce collapsed. The government of President Viktor Yanukovych has blamed the protesters for initiating the violence and said several police officers have been killed or taken hostage.
“We are outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. “We urge President Yanukovych to immediately withdraw his security forces from downtown Kyiv and to respect the right of peaceful protest, and we urge protesters to express themselves peacefully.”
The State Department announced Wednesday it issued visa bans for 20 government officials involved in the crackdown and froze their U.S. assets, and lawmakers of both parties vowed to push for more targeted sanctions when Congress reconvenes next week. The EU is expected to take similar steps Thursday.
The protests began late last year after Yanukovych turned down an association agreement with the EU and turned toward Russia instead. Since then, his government has grown increasingly authoritarian as it deals with the popular revolt, with many opposition figures demanding he step down as part of any political settlement to end the intensifying conflict.
Here's the full White House statement:
We urge the Ukrainian military not to get involved in a conflict that can and should be resolved by political means. The use of force will not resolve the crisis — clear steps must be taken to stop the violence and initiate meaningful dialogue that reduces tension and addresses the grievances of the Ukrainian people. The United States will work with our European allies to hold those responsible for violence accountable and to help the Ukrainian people get a unified and independent Ukraine back on the path to a better future.
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