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An anti-government protester shooting fireworks from a homemade gun. AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

As Kiev barricades burn, the EU mulls sanctions against Ukraine

At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, shocked Ukrainian athletes were stopped from wearing black armbands to mourn the dead.

THE EUROPEAN UNION is to discuss possible sanctions against Ukraine in response to the violence which left 26 people dead in the capital Kiev yesterday.

Protesters were locked in a stand-off with riot police across burning barricades today after fierce clashes as part of the country’s worst crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The crackdown by security forces on yesterday triggered a storm of international condemnation, with the White House calling the violence “completely outrageous”.

In what could spell a policy u-turn on the three-month old crisis, the EU called for an emergency meeting to discuss sanctions against those behind the unrest.

The French, German and Polish foreign ministers are also heading to Ukraine to meet embattled President Viktor Yanukovych tomorrow in parallel with the EU crisis talks.

Ukraine’s security service ramped up tensions by announcing a nationwide “anti-terrorist” operation, as the president accused the opposition of going too far.

Security forces on Kiev’s Independence Square appeared to have temporarily halted their push to take over the main protest camp as people streamed to the site with food, clothing and medication for the demonstrators.

Some protesters on the smoke-filled square hurled Molotov cocktails and cobblestones at the lines of riot police, while others piled wood on to the burning barricades separating them from the security forces.

imageAnti-government protesters protected themselves with shields during clashes. (Pic: AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Riot officers responded with the odd volley of stun grenades and rubber bullets.

The atmosphere was more subdued than on Tuesday, when riot police stormed the square with tear gas and protesters responded by burning tyres and throwing stones and fireworks.

At the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, shocked Ukrainian athletes wanted to wear black armbands to mourn the dead, but the request was denied by the International Olympic Committee as it would interfere with rules on athletes’ clothing.

Tuesday’s unrest was the deadliest since protests erupted in November after Yanukovych rejected an EU pact in favour of closer ties with former master Moscow.

Since then, the crisis has snowballed into a titanic tug of war for the country’s future between Russia and the West.

EU to explore ‘all options’

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton summoned the bloc’s foreign ministers for emergency talks on Thursday, with sanctions on the table.

“All possible options will be explored, including restrictive measures against those responsible for repression and human rights violations,” she said.

France and Poland led the calls for sanctions, and were joined by the US, Britain and Germany in condemning the bloodshed.

“We stand with the men and women suffering” in Kiev, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference with French President Francois Hollande in Paris.

imageFrench Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and US  Secretary of State John Kerry (Pic: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the international community was “deeply disturbed by the scenes of violence and the level of abuse”.

In Ireland, Minister for European Affairs, Paschal Donohoe joined with international colleagues to deplore the outbreak of violence in Ukraine before calling on all sides to refrain from hostilities.

“The Council made clear that the authorities should take all necessary steps to protect the fundamental rights of Ukrainian citizens and that the continuous targeting of organisers and participants of peaceful protests should cease immediately,” said Donohoe.

© – AFP 2014

Additional reporting from Rónán Duffy

Read: At least 25 dead as Ukraine president blames protesters >

Photos: 13 people killed in Kiev after police storm protest camp >

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