25 killed, hundreds injured in #Ukraine
Ukranian riot police charged protesters occupying a square in central Kiev early Wednesday, following hours of street battles that left at least 25 people dead and hundreds injured in the deadliest day of the nearly 3-month-old political crisis that has paralyzed Ukraine’s capital.
Police armed with water cannons were gaining ground in Independence Square, but protestors managed to find protection behind a burning barricade of tires and wood and hurled Molotov cocktails at security forces trying to put out the flames, Reuters reported.
At least 25, including several police officers and protesters, were reported dead in the violence by early Wednesday morning, with hundreds more injured, the Associated Press reported.
Thousands of protesters had filled Independence Square just hours before, sensing that Ukraine’s political standoff was reaching a critical turning point after the deadliest violence yet in nearly three months of protests that have paralyzed the capital and the nation.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged the protesters to defend the camp.
“We will not go anywhere from here,” Klitschko told the crowd, speaking from a stage in the square as fires burned around him, releasing huge plumes of smoke into the night sky. “This is an island of freedom and we will defend it,” he said.
Many heeded his call.
“This looks like a war against one’s own people,” said Dmytro Shulko, 35, who was heading toward the camp armed with a fire bomb. “But we will defend ourselves.”
In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden phoned Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych Tuesday and urged him to to pull back forces and address the protesters’ “legitimate grievances.” A State Department spokesman said Secretary of State John Kerry shared Biden’s “grave concerns,” adding, “Ukraine’s deep divisions will not be healed by spilling more innocent blood.”
The State Department also issued a travel alert for U.S, citizens in Ukraine late Tuesday, saying, “The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly. Further violent clashes between police and protesters in (Kiev) and other cities are possible.”
Shortly before midnight, Klitschko headed to Yanukovych’s office to try to resolve the crisis. He returned to the square early Wednesday without reaching any agreement on ending the violence. Klitschko told reporters that he had asked the president to stop the police action to clear the square and prevent further deaths, but Yanukovych’s only proposal was that the demonstrators have to go home and stop the protests.
“I am very unhappy because there was no discussion,” Klitschko said. “They don’t want to listen.”
Still, Klitschko urged the protesters and police to stop the escalation of violence. He said opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk was trying to arrange for more negotiations with Yanukovych later Wednesday.
In a statement published online early Wednesday, Yanukovych said that he had already made several attempts to compromise, but that opposition leaders “crossed a line when they called people to arms.”
Yanukovych said opposition leaders had to “draw a boundary between themselves and radical forces,” or else “acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation … will already be of a different kind.”
Clashes raged for several hours Thursday outside the parliament building, where opposition lawmaker Lesya Orobets told Reuters that three demonstrators were killed and taken to a nearby officers’ club used as a medical center. More than 100 people were injured, she said.
“Three bodies of our supporters are in the building. Another seven are close to dying (because of wounds),” she said on her Facebook page.
Two more bodies were lying in front of a Metro station on the side of the square, a photographer told Reuters.
Earlier in the day, protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accused Yanukovych’s government of ignoring their demands once again.
As darkness fell, law enforcement agencies vowed to bring order to the streets and shut down subway stations in the capital. Thousands of protesters streamed to the square to defend the camp, where Orthodox priests prayed for peace.
Earlier on Tuesday, the State Security Service, in a joint statement with the interior ministry, gave protesters a 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) deadline to end street disorder or face “tough measures,” Reuters reported.
“If by 6 p.m. the disturbances have not ended, we will be obliged to restore order by all means envisaged by law,” the statement said
The clashes dimmed hopes for an imminent solution to the political crisis and fueled tensions that began soaring following new steps by Russia and the European Union to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.
U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey R. Payatt called for dialogue, but also threatened both sides with sanctions.
“We believe Ukraine’s crisis can still be solved via dialogue, but those on both sides who fuel violence will open themselves to sanctions,” Payatt said on Twitter.
The protests began in late November after Yanukovych froze ties with the EU in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia, but the political maneuvering continued and Moscow later suspended its payments. On Monday, however, while opposition leaders were meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia offered a fresh infusion of the billions of dollars that Ukraine needs to keep its ailing economy afloat.
The latest confrontations came two days after the government and the opposition reached a shaky compromise, with protesters vacating a government building in Kiev they had been occupying since Dec. 1 after the government released of scores of jailed activists.
But tensions rose after Russia’s finance minister offered to resume financial aid to Ukraine on Monday, just as Yanukovych was expected to nominate a new prime minister, prompting fears among the opposition that he would tap a Russian-leaning loyalist.
Yanukovych still remains popular in the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, where economic and cultural ties with Russia are strong. But western Ukraine is keen to pursue closer ties to the 28-nation EU and move away from Russia’s orbit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin promised Yanukovych $15 billion in loans in December, but after purchasing Ukrainian bonds worth $3 billion Russia put the payments on hold. The Russian finance minister said Monday that $2 billion more would be purchased this week