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White House: Sanctions, not military action, being considered against Ukraine for violence

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Earnest answered questions including on the deficit and the situation in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Earnest answered questions including on the deficit and the situation in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON - The White House expressed renewed outrage over the continuing deadly violence in Ukraine, and Secretary of State John Kerry late Thursday said the U.S. has started "implementing sanctions through travel bans on Ukrainians responsible for the violence."

The White House said Vice-President Joe Biden, the Obama administration's prime contact with President Viktor Yanukovych in recent days, spoke to the Ukrainian leader by telephone Thursday afternoon and made clear that the U.S. is prepared to sanction officials responsible for the violence.

In Brussels, the 28-nation European Union decided Thursday in an emergency meeting to impose sanctions against those behind the violence, including a travel ban and an asset freeze against some Ukrainian officials.

Ukrainian government snipers fired upon advancing protesters in the capital, Kyiv, on Thursday, killing at least 70 people and wounding hundreds of others. At least 101 people have died this week in the clashes, according to protesters and Ukrainian authorities, a sharp and deadly turn in three months of mostly peaceful activity.

The White House has urged Yanukovych to withdraw forces from downtown Kyiv immediately.

Military action by the U.S. is not among the options being considered, deputy spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel had tried to reach the Ukrainian defence ministry to discuss the violence, but "they have been unresponsive to our requests." Kirby said the lack of responsiveness was unprecedented.

Kerry condemned the violence in a statement, saying he felt "anger and anguish." He called on Yanukovych to undertake serious negotiations with opposition leaders immediately.

"The violence must stop," Kerry said. "We unequivocally condemn the use of force against civilians by security forces, and urge that those forces be withdrawn immediately. The people of Ukraine and the international community will hold to account those who are responsible for what has occurred, and the United States has already begun implementing sanctions through travel bans on Ukrainians responsible for the violence."

President Barack Obama discussed the situation by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the White House said.

Earnest said the Ukrainian government has the primary responsibility for keeping the peace but that the Ukrainian people must also respect their right to peaceful protest. He said "having those rights trampled" is a source of some concern to the U.S., and again called on the government and the opposition to negotiate a political solution to restore order.

"Basic human rights that we hold so dear in this country are not being respected in that country," Earnest said.

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Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed.

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