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Ukraine president goes on sick leave as violent protests continue

The Prime Minister of Ukraine has resigned hours before a planned vote of no confidence by Parliament that could have stripped him of his powers. NBC  News' Ian Williams has the latest from Kiev. 

Almost two months into the increasingly violent stalemate between pro-west protesters and his government and with financial sanctions threatened by both the U.S. and Russia, Ukraine's embattled president announced Thursday he was taking sick leave on Thursday.

Viktor Yanukovych is suffering from acute respiratory illness and high fever, a statement on his website said. There was no indication of how long he might be on leave or whether he would be able to do any work. 

The announcement came hours after White House officials refused to rule out financial sanctions against the country if the violence escalates.

Plans have already been drawn up, congressional aides who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive subject matter, told Reuters; although they said that the final details had not been worked out.

The White House refused to comment directly on the proposal, referring back to National Security Council statement from January 19 that expressed deep concern about the violence that has seen six people killed in Ukraine’s capital Kiev and other cities since the protests erupted two months ago.

“The U.S. will continue to consider additional steps – including sanctions – in response to the use of violence,” they said at the time.

Russian president, Vladimir Putin also upped the stakes on Thursday, saying Russia would wait until it forms a new government before fully implementing $15 billion bailout deal that Kiev urgently needs. 

Yanukovich  sparked the mass protests by favoring closer ties with Moscow and refusing to sign a treaty with the European Union.

There were no reports of violence in Ukraine Wednesday, but protesters continued to hunker down in the Kiev’s Independence Square, despite the bitterly cold temperatures. 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.