AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov
Activists pay respects to protesters killed in clashes with police, in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Fierce clashes between police and protesters, some including gunfire, shattered a brief truce in Ukraine's besieged capital Thursday, killing numerous people. The deaths came in a new eruption of violence just hours after the country's embattled president and the opposition leaders demanding his resignation called for a truce and negotiations to try to resolve Ukraine's political crisis. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov) Sergei Chuzavkov/Associated Press
The European Union has decided to impose sanctions against officials in Ukraine who are responsible for the violence there, which escalated Thursday, leaving at least 70 people dead.
The sanctions include visa bans, the freezing of assets and the suspension of export licences for equipment used for crowd control such as water cannons, body armour and helmets
They were approved at an emergency meeting of the 28-nation bloc in Brussels.
Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, also announced sanctions against Ukrainian officials. In an emailed statement, Harper said Canada would expand travel restrictions against senior members of the Ukrainian government that were originally announced on Jan. 28. It will also impose economic sanctions on members of President Viktor Yanukovych's regime and its supporters, the statement said.
The EU sanctions specifically target "those responsible for human rights violations, violence and use of excessive force," the EU said in a statement. But no names of specific Ukrainian officials to whom the sanctions will apply have yet been released
The EU said the scope of the sanctions will be adjusted according to how the situation develops.
Thursday was the most violent day of protests since clashes between police and those calling for the resignation of Yanukovych escalated earlier this week after three months of mostly peaceful protests.
Fearing that a brief truce could allow the army to move in, protesters in the embattled capital tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines. Government snipers shot back, killing at least 70 people and wounding hundreds, according to a doctor tending to the protesters.
- See images of Independence Square before and after the clashes
"The price of freedom is too high but Ukrainians are paying it," said Viktor Danilyuk, a 30-year-old protester. "We have no choice, the government isn't hearing us."
Foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland met with both sides for several hours during the day and were set to continue meetings throughout the night and into Friday.
The French foreign minister said negotiations were proving difficult and no agreement was in sight, Reuters news agency reported
Wounded medic tweets
Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Trying to protect themselves with shields, teams of protesters carried bodies away on sheets of plastic or on planks of wood.
- 'I'm dying,' wounded medic tweets
One of the wounded, volunteer medic Olesya Zhukovskaya, sent out a brief Twitter message — "I'm dying" — after being shot in the neck. Dr. Oleh Musiy, the medical co-ordinator for the protesters, said Zhukovskaya was in serious condition after being operated on.
Protesters were also seen leading policemen with their hands held high around the sprawling protest camp in central Kyiv. Ukraine's Interior Ministry says 67 police were captured in all. It was not clear how they were taken. An opposition lawmaker said they were being held in Kyiv's occupied city hall.
Yanukovych and the opposition protesters who demand his resignation are locked in an epic battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million people that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country — mostly in its western cities — are in open revolt against Yanukovych's central government while many in eastern Ukraine favour strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.
Protesters are also upset over corruption, the lack of democratic rights and the country's ailing economy, which just barely avoided bankruptcy with a $15 billion US loan from Russia.
Yanukovych showing no signs of backing down
At least 101 people have died this week in the clashes in Kyiv, a sharp reversal from what had been mostly peaceful demonstrations. Now neither side appears willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych's resignation and an early election and the president apparently prepared to fight until the end.
An Associated Press cameraman saw snipers shooting at protesters in Kyiv, and video footage showed at least one sniper wearing a Ukrainian riot police uniform.
The carnage appears to show that neither Yanukovych nor the opposition leaders appear to be in control of the chaos engulfing the country.
Musiy, the protest doctor, told the AP that the death toll could rise well above the 70 people killed Thursday. Musiy said more than 500 people had been injured in the most recent clashes.
There was no way to immediately verify his statement. Earlier in the day, an Associated Press reporter saw 21 bodies of protesters laid out on the edge of the capital's sprawling protest camp.
In addition, three policeman were killed and 28 suffered gunshot wounds Thursday, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov told the AP.
U.S. expresses outrage
Saying the U.S. was outraged by the violence, President Barack Obama issued a statement urging Yanukovych to withdraw his forces from downtown Kyiv immediately. The U.S. is considering the possibility imposing its own sanctions but said military intervention was not an option.
Vice-President Joe Biden, the administration's prime contact with Yanukovych in recent days, spoke to the Ukrainian leader Thursday by phone, the vice-president's office said. Details of their conversation were not immediately available.
But Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel had tried to reach the Ukrainian Defence Ministry to discuss the violence, but "they have been unresponsive to our requests." Kirby said the lack of responsiveness was unprecedented.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. is urging Ukraine's military not to get involved in a conflict that must be resolved politically. He said the White House is outraged at images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic guns on Ukrainian people.
Carney said in a statement that Ukraine should respect the right of protest and that protesters must be peaceful.
Although the first weeks of the protests were determinedly peaceful, radical elements have become more influential as impatience with the lack of progress grows. In their battles Thursday, protesters regained some of the territory police had seized earlier in the week on the fringes of Maidan, the Kyiv square that has been the central base of the protesters.
One camp commander, Oleh Mykhnyuk, told the AP that protesters threw firebombs at riot police on the square overnight. As the sun rose, police pulled back, the protesters followed them and police then began shooting at them, he said.
Interior Ministry says officers being armed
The Interior Ministry warned Kyiv residents to stay indoors because of the "armed and aggressive mood of the people."
Yanukovych claimed Thursday that police were not armed and "all measures to stop bloodshed and confrontation are being taken." But the Interior Ministry later contradicted that, saying law enforcers would get weapons as part of an "anti-terrorist" operation.
Some signs emerged that Yanukovych is losing loyalists. The chief of Kyiv's city administration, Volodymyr Makeyenko, announced Thursday he was leaving Yanukovych's Party of Regions.
"We must be guided only by the interests of the people. This is our only chance to save people's lives," he said, adding he would continue to fulfil his duties as long as he had the people's trust.
Another influential member of the ruling party, Serhiy Tyhipko, said both Yanukovych and opposition leaders had "completely lost control of the situation."
"Their inaction is leading to the strengthening of opposition and human victims," the Interfax news agency reported.
The parliament building was evacuated Thursday because of fears that protesters would storm it, and the government office and the Foreign Ministry buildings in Kyiv were also evacuated. But a parliament session convened in the afternoon, with some pro-government lawmakers heeding the opposition's call to work out a solution to the crisis.
MPs voted on a resolution condemning the violence and calling for a withdrawal of troops and a halt to the use of weapons against the protesters
Alpine skier withdraws from competition in protest
Prior to the clashes Thursday, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people have died and 287 have been hospitalized this week. Protesters who have set up a medical facility in a downtown cathedral so that wounded colleagues would not be snatched away by police say the number of injured are significantly higher — possibly double or triple that.
The Caritas Ukraine aid group praised the protest medics but said many of the wounded will need long-term care, including prosthetics.
The clashes this week have been the most deadly since protests kicked off in November after Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia. Russia then announced a $15 billion US bailout for Ukraine.
In Moscow, the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin was sending former ombudsman Vladimir Lukin to Ukraine to act as a mediator.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will "try to do our best" to fulfill its financial obligations to Ukraine but indicated Moscow would hold back on further bailout instalments until the crisis is resolved.
"We need partners that are in good shape and a Ukrainian government that is legitimate and effective," he said.
At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Ukrainian alpine skier Bogdana Matsotska, 24, said she will not take part in Friday's women's slalom because of the developments in Kyiv.
"As a protest against lawless actions made toward protesters, the lack of responsibility from the side of the president and his lackey government, we refuse further performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games," her father and coach, Oleg Matsotskyy, wrote in a Facebook post.
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