World Bulletin / News Desk
The Obama administration is preparing financial sanctions that could be imposed on Ukrainian officials and protest leaders if violence escalates in the political crisis gripping Ukraine, congressional aides said on Wednesday.
Congressional aides, who asked not to be identified by name because of the sensitive subject, said they had discussed the sanction preparations with administration officials.
They said final details of the package have not been worked out, but it could be put in place quickly against government officials - or leaders of the protest movement - in case of widespread violence.
Six people have been killed in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities in protests that erupted more than two months ago after President Viktor Yanukovich walked away from a treaty with the European Union under pressure from Russia.
Alarmed by the crisis, Washington has revoked the visas of some Ukrainian officials.
President Barack Obama referred to Ukraine in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, voicing support for the principle that all people have the right to free expression.
Vice President Joe Biden has spoken to Yanukovich at least three times. And two U.S. senators, Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut, traveled to Kiev last month and addressed demonstrations.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday passed a resolution calling on all sides in the confrontation to refrain from violence and work toward a peaceful resolution.
"The situation in Ukraine remains very volatile and more needs to be done," said Representative Eliot Engel, the New York Democrat who sponsored the resolution. "We must remain engaged."
However, U.S. lawmakers and Obama administration officials said they were encouraged by recent developments, including the Ukrainian parliament's vote to repeal anti-protest laws.
"We were encouraged that Ukraine's parliament repealed the most egregious of the most anti-democratic laws. Today we want to urge President Yanukovich to sign the repeal laws," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a news briefing.
She told reporters the State Department has been willing to consider sanctions but no decision has been made.
Alarm has grown elsewhere in the West. German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin and Yanukovich on Wednesday, urging a constructive dialogue between the government and opposition.
Putin raised the pressure on Ukraine on Wednesday, saying Russia would wait until Ukraine forms a new government before fully implementing a $15 billion bailout deal that Kiev urgently needs.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who has been under pressure due to the continuing political crisis and protests in the country for months, has also been declared to be on sick leave.
"Yanukovych became ill due to acute respiratory disease accompanied by fever," according to a statement on the Ukranian presidential website on Thursday.
Ukrainian parliament approves amnesty
The Verkhovna Rada - Ukraine's parliament - has voted to approve an amnesty for detained protesters, provided the opposition evacuates the public offices and squares they currently occupy within 15 days.
The law was sponsored by President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions and passed without debate by 232 votes. The opposition refused to participate in the vote, saying the detainees must be released without conditions.
"We cannot sign up to a law that was passed unlawfully," Oleh Tyahnybok, head of the opposition Svoboda (Freedom) Party, told the press after the talks.
Under the new law, the protestors will be allowed to remain at certain occupied sites around the city.
"The October Palace near Maidan, Maidan itself, and Khreshchatyk Street...the protesters can stay in these locations," the author of the bill, Yury Miroshnichenko, said.
Yury Derevyanko, a parliamentary deputy, said on his Facebook account that Yanukovych would dissolve the parliament if they failed to come to an agreement.Last Mod: 30 Ocak 2014, 14:23