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Obama administration calls on Ukraine president to 'de-escalate’ violence, talk with protesters

The Obama administration responded Tuesday to the deadly, anti-government protests this week in Ukraine, calling on President ViktorYanukovych and his government to “de-escalate” the situation and open peace talks with the opposition.

Secretary of State John Kerry “shares the grave concerns expressed by Vice President Biden directly to President Yanukovych today regarding the unacceptable violence on the streets of Kyiv,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “Ukraine’s deep divisions will not be healed by spilling more innocent blood.”

Earlier Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden called Yanukovych to express his concerns, the White House said.

Biden asked Yanukovych to pull back government forces and also urged him to talk immediately with opposition leaders to address protesters' “legitimate grievances” and to put “forward serious proposals for political reform,” according to the White House.

Biden also made clear the United States is committed to supporting efforts toward a peaceful resolution that “reflects the will and aspirations of the Ukrainian people,” the White House said.

The violence Tuesday was the deadliest in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine's capital and the worst in the country's post-Soviet history.

The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the European Union in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued, however, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

Until Monday, the government and the opposition had appeared to be making some progress toward resolving the political crisis peacefully. In exchange for the release of scores of jailed activists, protesters on Sunday vacated a government building that they had occupied since Dec. 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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