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White House threatens Ukrainian government with sanctions

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The White House on Thursday condemned the bloody clashes between police and protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, and warned that the U.S. and other international partners could impose sanctions against the government if the crisis continues.

“The United States will consider -- continue to consider additional steps, including sanctions, in response to the use of violence,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at his regular daily briefing Thursday, noting that the State Department has revoked the visas of several people responsible.

Carney said the uprising is taking place in the Ukraine because the government is failing to acknowledge the “legitimate grievances of its people.”

“Instead, it has moved to weaken the foundations of Ukraine's democracy by criminalizing peaceful protest and stripping civil society and political opponents of key democratic protections under the law,” he said.

Carney urged the government of Ukraine to repeal the “anti-democratic legislation” signed into law in recent days, withdraw the riot police from downtown Kiev and begin a dialogue with the political opposition.

He also said the U.S. supports calls by opposition leaders to return to a principle of non-violence.

Angry protesters stormed government offices in three western Ukrainian cities Thursday, forcing one governor to write a letter of resignation. The protests against pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych have raged for two months and have grown increasingly violent this week.

Yanukovych has responded by calling a special session of parliament next week to discuss the tensions and said the the “situation demands an urgent settlement.”

Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday afternoon called Yanukovych to urge an immediate de-escalation in the standoff in downtown Kiev, the White House said in a readout of the phone call.

Stressing that democratic societies must respect the freedoms of assembly and expression, Biden urged Yanukovych to take steps to end the violence and to meaningfully address the “legitimate concerns of peaceful protesters, stressing the importance of the ongoing dialogue with the opposition and the need for genuine compromise as the only solution to the crisis.”

While emphasizing that violence by any side is not acceptable, Biden said only the government of Ukraine can ensure a peaceful end to the crisis and further bloodshed would have consequences for Kiev’s relationship with the United States.

This story was originally posted at 2:19 p.m. and was updated at 3:29 p.m.

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