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EU sanctions Ukrainians with "blood on their hands"

The European Union has agreed to slap a travel ban and asset freeze against Ukrainians with "blood on their hands" but left the door open to a political deal.

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Thursday agreed to slap a travel ban and asset freeze against Ukrainians with "blood on their hands" but left the door open to a political deal by naming no names.

"In light of the deteriorating situation, the EU has decided as a matter of urgency to introduce targeted sanctions including an asset freeze and visa ban against those responsible for human rights violations, violence and use of excessive force," said a statement from EU foreign ministers after Ukraine crisis talks.

The measures, which Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said targeted Ukrainians with "blood on their hands," were agreed at emergency talks in Brussels convened to address the worsening crisis in Ukraine.

The sanctions, which include a wide-ranging ban on European sales of anti-riot equipment, mark a diplomatic U-turn for the 28-nation bloc which previously had resisted US calls to impose punitive measures.

Some nations felt sanctions were often ineffective while others feared they could drive President Viktor Yanukovych further into Russia's arms.

But as horrific scenes of violence flashed up on European TV screens, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said the sanctions are "a strong signal of how unacceptable this is in a European city, in a European country".

"We call on all to turn away from violence," he said.

EU officials will work from Friday on a list of Ukrainians to face sanctions, with Hague saying the number "will depend on developments to come".

A final list "can take one or two days" to allow for proper legal work, said Dutch Foreign Minister Franz Timmermans.

Belgian counterpart Didier Reynders said the decision was a clear signal that "there can be no impunity for those who violate human rights".

He said a first list of Ukrainians facing sanctions could include security chiefs and government ministers. "It can be widened later," he said.

Diplomats said the conditioning of names to events was linked to efforts by three of the EU's 28 foreign ministers, who were in Ukraine holding talks with Yanukovych and opposition leaders Thursday to seek a "roadmap" out of the country's political turmoil.

'Appalled and dismayed'

The ministers from France, Germany and Poland -- Laurent Fabius, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Radoslaw Sikorski -- had been due to fly from Kiev to Brussels to join counterparts for Thursday's crisis talks on Ukraine.

Instead they kept their colleagues in the loop by telephone on efforts to find a deal to defuse the crisis, and were to stay in Kiev for more talks on Friday.

A French diplomatic source said the three ministers had gone to Kiev with "some ideas" -- to try to "bring a halt" to the violence, start real negotiations and revise the constitution in a more democratic direction and hold early elections.

Yanukovych told the EU envoys he was willing to hold early elections this year, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said.

"Among other things it was agreed with Yanukovych that there was a willingness to hold early elections this year, both presidential and parliamentary," he said.

In Brussels, Italy's Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said that EU nations also agreed to offer medical assistance and visas to the injured and to dissidents.

At least 60 protesters died from gunshot wounds in fresh clashes Thursday between thousands of demonstrators and heavily-armed riot police, according to an opposition medic, the deadliest day since protests against Yanukovych erupted three months ago.

The ministers' statement, which said the EU was "appalled and deeply dismayed" by the situation in Ukraine, also agreed the suspension of "export licences on equipment which might be used for internal repression".

This would include water cannon, barricades, vehicles used to transport prisoners, body armour and razor wire, for instance.

But calls for an arms embargo failed to win the unanimous support necessary as some member states felt that Ukraine's armed forces, which often work with European troops, should not be targeted.

The statement urged all sides to immediately engage in political dialogue and says Yanukovych must take "the first step" enabling such contact.

It reiterates the EU's calls for constitutional reform and the formation of a new government ahead of the organisation of free and fair elections.

The unrest was initially ignited by Yanukovych's shock decision in November to ditch a historic EU trade and political association agreement in favour of closer ties with Kiev's historic masters in the Kremlin.

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