WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry hit out at Ukrainian security forces on Thursday, demanding that violence meted out against demonstrators "must stop" amid scenes of "senseless death" in Kiev.
The remarks, in a statement from the State Department, said the US "unequivocally condemn the use of force against civilians by security forces, and urge that those forces be withdrawn immediately".
The demand from Kerry came shortly after US Vice President Joe Biden warned Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych that America was ready to impose sanctions on officials guilty of ordering troops to fire on protesters.
"It's with anger and anguish that we have watched renewed violence on the streets of Kiev today destroy more lives and rip apart more families," Kerry's statement said.
"The people of Ukraine deserve far better than senseless death and suffering on the streets of one of Europe's great cities. There is no time for brinksmanship or gamesmanship.
"President Yanukovych must undertake serious negotiations with opposition leaders immediately to establish a new interim government that will have broad support. That is the only way to begin the difficult but essential constitutional and economic reforms that Ukraine needs."
Earlier, US President Barack Obama had called German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the next Western response in the crisis, a day after warning of "consequences" for the government if violence continues.
Obama has already put 20 Ukrainian officials on a visa blacklist and threatened further sanctions, which could include asset freezes.