US Vice President Joe Biden urged Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych Monday to pull back riot police and work with the opposition on "immediate measures" to de-escalate tensions between the government and protesters.
In a phone call, Biden -- "underscoring that no time should be lost" -- also warned that "declaring a state of emergency or enacting other harsh security measures would further inflame the situation and close the space for a peaceful resolution," according to a White House statement.
The Eastern European country has been hit by protests that began in Kiev in November after Yanukovych ditched a key deal with the European Union under Russian pressure.
At least three protesters have been killed in clashes with the security forces and the protests have spread far beyond their hub in capital to outlying regions.
Yanukovych met Monday with the three main opposition leaders -- opposition leader Arseniy Yastenyuk, former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko and nationalist Oleg Tyagnybok -- who have called for a new mass demonstration on Tuesday on Kiev's Independence Square, the Maidan.
He agreed to scrap anti-protest laws but said jailed protesters would be released only if barricades are taken down.
Biden used the call to "express US support for on-going negotiations between the government and the opposition to end the current standoff and bring about a peaceful, political solution to the crisis," according to the White House.
But he also urged the government to take "concrete steps" during a parliamentary session Tuesday "to respond to the full and legitimate concerns of the Ukrainian people, including by repealing the anti-democratic laws passed on January 16."