Authorities in Ukraine issued further warnings to protesters Thursday, coupled with sharp criticism from the prime minister, amidst continuing protests there that initially triggered a brutal crackdown and sparked broader anti-government sentiment.

From Reuters:

Ukrainian police on Thursday warned pro-Europe protesters they faced a “harsh” crackdown if they did not end their occupation of public offices in Kiev, while President Viktor Yanukovich’s prime minister denounced them as “Nazis and criminals”.

The authorities issued the tough warnings as foreign ministers held a European security conference in a city seething with unrest over the Ukrainian government’s U-turn away from Europe back towards Russia.

[…]

A court ordered the protesters on Thursday to quit the Kiev mayor’s office, where they have set up an operational hub, and halt their four-day blockade of government buildings.

In perhaps the strongest signal yet that the authorities are contemplating action to reclaim the streets, the head of the Kiev police, Valery Mazan, said: “We do not want to use force. But if the law is broken, we will act decisively, harshly.

“We will not try to talk people round. We have the means and capability laid down by the law,” he added.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs was in Ukraine today amidst the protests.  In her remarks at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) ministerial council meeting, Victoria Nuland seemed to offer cautious support for the vision of the protesters who support integration with the European Union, while urging a constructive solution.

From the Associated Press via Yahoo News:

Western diplomats urged Ukrainian authorities on Thursday to respect the massive protests gripping the country against the government’s decision to freeze ties with the EU and turn to Moscow instead.

Several thousand activists kept up the demonstrations at a central square in the capital Kiev and besieged government meetings as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s ministerial council began its meeting on the other side of the river. The meeting had been scheduled long before the protests that have been dominating the country.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland challenged Ukrainian authorities to meet the protests constructively.

“This is Ukraine’s moment to meet the aspirations of its people or disappoint them,” she told the OSCE meeting. “Democratic norms and the rule of law must be upheld.”

Britain’s Minister for Europe David Liddington called on authorities to respect the right of citizens to “peacefully assemble.”

“The eyes of the world are on Ukraine today,” he said.

The protests have rattled Ukraine since last week, after its president backed out of signing an association agreement with the European Union.  Such an agreement is important to those in Ukraine who want to see more integration with the EU rather than closer ties to Russia.

(Featured image credit: DW.de video)