|Ukraine opposition defies Yanukovych, while Washington weighs sanctions
Pro-EU demonstrators in Ukraine dug in as the United States warned of possible sanctions over Kiev's crackdown on opposition protests, urging authorities to show restraint.
The demonstrators – who have occupied the capital's Independence Square in anger at the rejection of a landmark European Union pact – forced riot police to retreat following a pre-dawn raid on their protest camp in a blow to the authority of President Viktor Yanukovych.
International pressure is mounting on the embattled leader, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton meeting him twice in recent days and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland telling the president the attempted police crackdown was “inadmissible.’’
About 30 people were injured when riot police and interior ministry special forces moved against the demonstrators. But just hours later Yanukovych vowed authorities would never use force against peaceful protests and urged the opposition to sit down for talks.
“For the sake of achieving compromise I am calling on the opposition not to reject [talks], not to follow the path of confrontation and ultimatums,'' Yanukovych said in a statement. “I am ready to participate in such round-table talks personally.''
The United States said it is considering a range of options in response to the crackdown, including possible sanctions.
“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 said.
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel warned the Ukrainian authorities against using military force on demonstrators “in any fashion,'' and urged restraint.
In a call with his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Lebedev, Hagel “underlined the potential damage of any involvement by the military in breaking up the demonstrations,'' assistant Pentagon spokesman Carl Woog said in a statement.
Earlier, security forces tore down makeshift barricades in Independence Square but were eventually forced into a humiliating retreat amid cheers from the demonstrators after the ranks of protesters swelled.