8 feared dead in fresh Kiev clashes

2014-02-20 13:31

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Kiev – At least eight people are feared dead and many more injured after heavy street fighting and gunfire broke out in Kiev today, hours after a truce agreed to by the Ukrainian government and the opposition crumbled.

Seven bodies were lying outside a hotel on the city’s Independence Square, the Interfax Ukraine news agency reported.

The Ukrainian interior ministry said one policeman died of gunshot wounds and 29 more had been injured. There are fears that the death toll could rise with reports and photos posted on social media networks suggesting that more dead protesters were at makeshift first-aid points in the city centre.

From a stage on Kiev’s Maidan, or Independence Square, protest leaders urgently called for doctors and medication. They also said they had captured riot police officers who had shot at protesters.

Television footage showed men clad in black being escorted through the crowd. Authorities hastily evacuated parliament and the cabinet of ministers’ building after protesters entered the government quarters.

Earlier, the parliament’s press office said all sessions for this week had been cancelled. The renewed violence erupted early today when thousands of protesters on the square and surrounding streets threw firebombs and Molotov cocktails at police, who responded with tear gas. The area was filled with black smoke from burning tyres. The interior ministry accused the protesters of firing live ammunition at officers.

“Snipers are shooting at police,” the ministry said on its website, adding that it suspected the shooters were in the nearby burnt-out conservatory building.

But protest leaders accused the police of sending snipers to fire on them.

The latest escalation in fighting comes after opposition leaders and President Viktor Yanukovych declared a truce at late-night talks yesterday. Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland arrived in the Ukrainian capital for urgent political talks with Yanukovych that are aimed at ending the clashes.

The ministers will then head to Brussels where an extraordinary foreign ministers’ meeting will be held later today to decide on whether to impose sanctions against Kiev.

Speaking on radio before his meeting with Yanukovych, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the two types of sanctions being discussed were visa bans and asset freezes.

“You have to hit the wallet in these cases,” he said. A top Ukrainian politician warned against the EU and US imposing sanctions, saying they would “splinter” the country.

“Sanctions would exacerbate the situation and add fuel to the fire,” Andriy Klyuyev, head of Ukraine’s presidential administration said today. “They would splinter the country in two.”

Earlier this week, Washington imposed visa bans on 20 senior Ukrainian officials linked to violence against the protesters.

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