UKRAINE - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS
An anti-government protester rises his fist behind burning barricades in Kiev's Independence Square February 19, 2014. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich accused pro-European opposition leaders on Wednesday of trying to seize power by force after at least 26 people died in the worst violence since the former Soviet republic gained independence. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis (UKRAINE - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS) - RTX1957J Yannis Behrakis/Reuters
Fierce clashes between police and protesters in Ukraine's capital have erupted anew Thursday and an Associated Press reporter has seen 10 bodies laid out on the edge of the protest encampment.
As the violence explodes and heavy smoke from burning barricades at the encampment belches into the sky, the foreign ministers of three European countries are meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych, according to a presidential aide. Earlier Thursday, a French Embassy spokeswoman said the meeting was cancelled for security reasons, but a top Yanukovych aide later said the meeting was underway.
Hours before the new clashes the country's embattled president and top opposition leaders met and called for a truce and negotiations.
The two sides are locked in a battle over the identity of this nation of 46 million, whose loyalties are divided between Russia and the West, and parts of the country are in open revolt against the central government.
The latest bout of street violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would limit the president's power — a key opposition demand. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.
In a statement published early Thursday, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people have died and 287 have been hospitalized during the two days of street violence. Protesters, who have set up a medical care facility in a downtown cathedral, say the numbers are significantly higher.
Ukrainian police said Thursday that more than 20 officers have been wounded by gunfire in the capital. A statement from the Interior Ministry on Thursday said the gunfire appeared to be coming from the national music conservatory, which is on the edge of the downtown square housing an extensive protest tent camp. It did not say when the officers were wounded, but added that they were receiving treatment on Thursday.
Also Thursday, the parliament building was evacuated because of fears protesters were preparing to storm it, said parliament spokeswoman Irina Karnelyuk.
EU foreign ministers, Ukraine president meet
The renewed clashes despite the declaration of truce follow days of violence, the most deadly since protests kicked off three months ago after Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia. After Yanukovych shelved the agreement with the EU, Russia announced a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine, whose economy is in tatters.
The ongoing violence on the square Thursday indicates that more radical elements among the protesters may be unwilling to observe the truce and may not be mollified by the prospects of negotiations. Although the initial weeks of protests were determinedly peaceful, radicals helped drive an outburst of clashes with police in January in which at least three people died, and the day of violence on Tuesday may have radicalized many more.
Political and diplomatic manoeuvring has continued, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic. Three EU foreign ministers — from Germany, France and Poland — are in Kyiv Thursday speaking with both sides before an emergency EU meeting in Brussels to consider sanctions against those responsible for the recent violence in Ukraine.
U.S. President Barack Obama also stepped in to condemn the violence, warning Wednesday "there will be consequences" for Ukraine if it continues. The U.S. has raised the prospect of joining with the EU to impose sanctions against Ukraine.
Russia's Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, described the violence as an attempted coup and even used the phrase "brown revolution," an allusion to the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933. The ministry said Russia would use "all our influence to restore peace and calm."
Neither side had appeared 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.
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