- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ukraine’s president announced a truce Wednesday with opposition groups after clashes with riot police killed at least 26 people, violence that prompted President Obama and U.S. allies to warn of possible sanctions.

After President Viktor Yanukovych met with opposition leaders, a statement on his website said the sides agreed to a truce and “the start of a negotiations process aimed at ending the bloodshed [and] stabilizing the situation in the country for the benefit of civil peace.”

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The Ukrainian leader said authorities called off an “anti-terror operation” in the central square in the capital of Kiev, where protesters had erected barricades, set fires and battled police. Those fires continued to burn overnight Wednesday and into Thursday as the protests showed no signs of abating.

“The main thing is to protect human life,” said Mr. Yanukovych, who replaced the nation’s army chief earlier Wednesday.

President Obama warned Ukraine that “violence is not the path” for dealing with civil unrest and said his administration would hold officials there responsible for the deaths of protesters, including with possible sanctions.

“We’re going to be watching closely and we expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence in dealing with peaceful protesters,” Mr. Obama said in Toluca, Mexico, where he was attending a summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. “There will be consequences if people step over the line.”

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Later in the evening, Mr. Obama said at a press conference with the other two North American leaders that if the truce is implemented, “it could provide space for the sides to resolve their disagreements peacefully.”

Mr. Obama made the comments a day after violence erupted between riot police and protesters in Kiev, injuring 241 in addition to the fatalities. It was the worst violence in nearly three months of anti-government demonstrations in a long-simmering domestic dispute over whether Ukraine, which became independent upon the Soviet Union’s dissolution in the early 1990s, should engage more with the West or maintain its ties to Russia.

As Mr. Obama arrived in Mexico, U.S. officials said they were working with European allies on possible sanctions intended to stop the killings in Ukraine. Both protesters and security forces have been killed in the violence this week.

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the violence that’s taking place,” Mr. Obama said. “We hold the Ukrainian government primarily responsible for making sure that it is dealing with peaceful protesters in an appropriate way, that the Ukrainian people are able to assemble and speak freely about their interests without fear of repression.”

The protests in Ukraine, a nation of 45 million, have grown into a broader ideological struggle between the West and Russia.

Demonstrations broke out in November after Mr. Yanukovych rejected an accord with the European Union in favor of stronger ties with Russia, including a $15 billion bailout. Thousands of people, outraged that their government had rejected integration with Europe, began peaceful protests in central Kiev.

As the unrest expanded into assaults of activists and other violence, many Ukrainians are less concerned now about engagement with the West than they are with toppling Mr. Yanukovych, whom they view as promoting his own interests and serving as a puppet of Moscow. One opposition leader, Oleg Lyashko, raised the specter of Mr. Yanukovych himself being killed by the mob.

Yanukovych, you will end like [Moammar] Gadhafi,” he told thousands of angry protesters. “Either you, a parasite, will stop killing people or this fate will await you. Remember this, dictator!”

Mr. Yanukovych called for a day of national mourning Thursday, but also told the opposition that it must not resort to armed rebellion.

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