EU mulls arms embargo as violence escalates in Ukraine

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union was mulling an arms embargo on Ukraine at a crisis meeting in Brussels on Thursday as three EU envoys held talks with the country's embattled leader in Kiev.

Describing the escalating violence in Kiev as "utterly unacceptable and indefensible", British Foreign Secretary William Hague stepped into the emergency meeting saying: "Helping to stop the violence is the immediate priority.

"There has to be an international response. That is why we will be discussing sanctions and measures," he added.

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

EU ministers are holding talks in Brussels on possible sanctions against those held responsible for the bloodshed while the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland are meeting in Kiev with Yanukovych.

"I think that in addition it would be good to decide an arms embargo to give a clear political sign," Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz said.

A draft statement seen by AFP that is to be finalised by the bloc's 28 foreign ministers says the EU "is gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in Ukraine".

It will therefore decide "as a matter of urgency" to agree targeted sanctions against people "responsible for violence and use of excessive force", the document said.

The document also states that the EU "will implement an arms embargo and a ban on equipment used for internal repression".

If sanctions are adopted, it will mark a policy U-turn for the EU which for weeks resisted US pressure for punitive measures, preferring instead to facilitate talks on political reform between Yanukovych and his opponents.

There are no names attached to the document, although EU diplomats have told AFP that Yanukovych is unlikely to be listed.

The names of those targeted might not be made official until the weekend, said one diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.