Ukraine clashes
Smoke rises above burning barricades at Independence Square during anti-government protests in Kiev. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said he had reached agreement with opposition leaders on a "truce" to halt fighting that has killed 26 people, even as the United States stepped up pressure by imposing travel bans on 20 senior Ukrainian officials.Reuters

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said he has reached a "truce" with the opposition leaders after the latest bout of violence in the capital Kiev claimed 26 lives, but the EU and the United States reacted cautiously.

The president said the truce would facilitate "the start to negotiations with the aim of ending bloodshed, and stabilising the situation in the state in the interest of social peace".

Arseny Yatseniuk, a key opposition leader, confirmed the latest move by the government. "A truce has been declared. The main thing is to protect human life," he said.

US President Barack Obama said the truce a "welcome step forward," but called on Yanukovich to "ensure that actions mirror words".

"My hope is at this point that a truce may hold but ... ultimately the government is responsible for making sure that we shift toward some sort of unity government, even if it's temporary, that allows us to move to fair and free elections so that the will of the Ukrainian people can be rightly expressed without the kinds of chaos we've seen on the streets," Obama said in Mexico, where he was attending a North American summit.

Ukraine has been grappling with strident anti-government protests in the last three months, following the government's decision to scrap a trade deal with the EU and edge closer towards Russia.

The resulting pro-EU protests worsened in recent days and Kiev witnessed the worst violence since the creation of the country in 1991 following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The West had condemned the use of force against the protesters and warned a further deterioration in the situation would lead to serious consequences.

The US, which is seen as engaging in a cold war style turf battle with Russia over influence in Ukraine, said it was imposing visa bans on 20 Ukrainian officials who are "responsible for ordering human rights abuses related to political oppression".

Targeted measures

EU leaders were also discussing measures against Ukraine, including asset freezes and travel bans for the "unjustified use of excessive force by the Ukrainian authorities".

"The European Union will respond to the deterioration on the ground, including via targeted measures," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in a statement.

Yanukovych had earlier blamed the opposition for the unprecedented bloodshed in Kiev and sent riot police to Kiev's Independence Square.

The protest epicentre had turned into a war zone as demonstrators confronted police with fireworks, rocks and bats even as security forces tried to evacuate them by dismantling barricades and using stun grenades.

Violence abated in the capital following the "truce" but the situation remained volatile even as the EU leaders were preparing for the Brussels meeting to discuss the course of action on the Ukraine stalemate.

While French President François Hollande said those responsible for the violence "have to know that they will certainly be sanctioned", German chancellor Angela Merkel said sanctions alone were not enough as there was "no point in having sanctions that hit the civil population".