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EU Votes to Impose Sanctions on Ukrainian Officials Responsible for Violence


BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union voted on Thursday to impose sanctions against those held responsible for the violence in Ukraine.

The sanctions, unanimously approved by EU foreign ministers at an emergency meeting, include a travel ban to the 28-nation bloc and the freezing of assets held in EU countries.

A protester sets light to a portrait of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich during a protest against the violence in Ukraine at Prague´s Wenceslas Square, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP,CTK/Michal Krumphanzl)

The sanctions will target "those responsible for human rights violations, violence and use of excessive force" in Ukraine, the EU said in a statement.

It said the bloc will soon establish a list of those who will be affected by the sanctions.

When asked if they would target Ukrainian officials and opposition activists held responsible for violence, EU diplomat Catherine Ashton noted that the primary responsibility lies with the government.

"The responsibility to stop the violence rests squarely with those in power, and we urge them to do so as fast as possible," she told reporters after the meeting in Brussels.

The EU is "truly alarmed and shocked by the violence that has taken place," Ashton said.

The bloc acted as street battles between anti-government protesters and police left scores of people dead and hundreds wounded in the last few days in the ex-Soviet state.

The United States, which has threatened to impose sanctions, already has canceled the visas of several Ukrainian officials connected with the police violence.

In Brussels, the EU ministers also said the bloc's member countries agreed "to suspend export licenses on equipment which might be used for internal repression" in Ukraine.

The equipment wasn't identified, but it could include items such as firearms, ammunition, vehicles equipped with water cannons and anti-riot protection gear for law enforcement officials.

Ashton said the EU foreign ministers agreed that the scope of the sanctions will be adjusted according to developments in Ukraine. That leaves the EU leeway as it seeks to broker a peaceful solution to the conflict there.

The Brussels meeting was held as the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland held talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leaders in Kiev on Thursday aimed at ending the violence.

"There is a widespread horror in the European Union as well as in the United Kingdom at the scale of the loss of innocent life and the events of the last 48 hours," British Foreign Minister William Hague said in Brussels.

Meanwhile, top officials in Europe and the United States talked with one another on the telephone about the Ukraine crisis Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to emphasize "the need for an immediate end to bloodshed and urgent steps to stabilize the situation and stop extremist and terrorist actions," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Merkel said that in separate conversations she had with Putin and President Barack Obama she briefed them about the trip of the three EU foreign ministers to Kiev.

She said she, Putin and Obama agreed that a political solution must be found as soon as possible to prevent further bloodshed in Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also expressed concern about Ukraine's violence.

In an interview with The Associated Press in Athens on Thursday, Fogh Rasmussen said Ukraine's government has a "special responsibility not to use excessive force," and he urged the country's military to remain neutral.

He said NATO defense ministers would meet in Brussels next week and would likely "review our relationship with Ukraine," which isn't a member of the alliance but participates in its operations and exercises.

Ban called for an immediate end to the violence in Kiev, "and a return to real, genuine, constructive dialogue," said U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

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