TOLUCA, Mexico- US President Barack Obama urged Ukraine’s government Wednesday to refrain from using violence against peaceful protesters, warning of “consequences” if any further abuses take place.
Obama made his remarks during a visit to Mexico as the European Union scheduled urgent talks to mull sanctions in the wake of clashes between police and anti-government protesters in Kiev that left at least 26 people dead.
The Obama administration placed 20 top Ukrainian officials on a visa blacklist as it threatened to take punitive sanctions against individuals responsible for the violence.
Ukraine’s embattled President Viktor Yanukovych announced a truce with the opposition, which Obama said would be a welcome step toward dialogue if implemented.
“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,” Obama said.
“I want to be very clear as we work through these next several days in Ukraine that 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,” he said before talks with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Speaking later at a press conference alongside Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the end of a North American summit, Obama urged Yanukovych to withdraw riot police and called on the army to remain on the sidelines.
He also appealed for “progress” on the formation of a multi-party technical government and adopt reforms needed for free and fair elections next year.
“My hope is that at this point a truce may hold,” Obama said.