New deadly clashes in Ukraine as truce falls apart

Feb 20, 2014 7:22 AM

KIEV, UKRAINE (CBS) - Fierce clashes between police and protesters - some including gunfire - shattered a brief truce in Ukraine's besieged capital Thursday, killing at least 19 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.

An Associated Press reporter saw 18 bodies Thursday laid out on the edge of the sprawling protest encampment in central Kiev. In addition, one policeman was killed and 28 suffered gunshot wounds Thursday, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov told the AP. Those numbers Thursday brought the week's death toll to at least 45 in Kiev.

CBS News personnel saw eight bodies of demonstrators at the protest encampment in downtown Kiev. All had been shot.

CBS News correspondent Holly Williams says protesters were also seen leading away a dozen police officers they'd captured. The protesters promised not to harm them.

As the violence exploded and heavy smoke from burning barricades at the encampment belched into the sky, the foreign ministers of three European countries were meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych, according to a presidential aide.
Several thousand protesters remained on the square and hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at lines of police, who responded with stun grenades. An Associated Press cameraman saw one unconscious protester being taken off the square in a stretcher, as well as numerous others with minor injuries. Police said 20 officers were wounded by gunfire in the capital and were receiving treatment Thursday.

Also Thursday, the parliament building was evacuated because of fears protesters were preparing to storm it, said parliament spokeswoman Irina Karnelyuk.

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. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up the reforms.

In a statement published earlier Thursday, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people had 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.

A statement from the Interior Ministry on Thursday said the gunfire that wounded the police officers 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.

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 favor 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.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, who along with two other leaders met with the president late on Wednesday to discuss a truce, said the president assured them police would not storm the protesters' encampment on Kiev's Independence Square, according to the Interfax news agency.

A brief statement published on the president's website late on Wednesday did not give details of what terms a truce would entail or how it would be implemented. Nor did it specify how the negotiations would be conducted or give an indication of how they would be different from previous meetings of the president and the opposition leaders.

Political and diplomatic maneuvering 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 - were in Kiev on Thursday to speak with both sides before an emergency EU meeting in Brussels to consider sanctions against those responsible for the recent violence in Ukraine.

Russia's foreign ministry Thursday cautioned the EU that "sanctions are inappropriate to deal with the situation in the Ukraine and will only aggravate the situation."

President Obama 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.

On a visit to Mexico, Mr. Obama said the Ukrainian military should not step into a situation that civilians should resolve and added that the U.S. holds Ukraine's government primarily responsible for dealing with peaceful protesters appropriately.

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."

In Kiev, Ukraine's top security agency accused protesters Wednesday of seizing hundreds of firearms from its offices and announced a nationwide anti-terrorist operation to restore order.

Demonstrators, meanwhile, forced their way into the main post office on Kiev's Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, after a nearby building they had previously occupied was burned down in fierce, fiery clashes late Tuesday with riot police. Thousands of activists armed with fire bombs and rocks had defended the square, a key symbol of the protests.

"The revolution has turned into a war with the authorities," Vasyl Oleksenko, a retired geologist from central Ukraine, said Wednesday. "We must fight this bloody, criminal leadership. We must fight for our country, our Ukraine!"

Before the truce was announced, the bad blood was running so high it has fueled fears the nation could be sliding toward a messy breakup. While most people in the country's western regions resent Yanukovych, he enjoys strong support in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where many want strong ties with Russia.

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.

Opposition lawmaker Oleh Lyashko warned that Yanukovych himself was in danger.

Before the truce announcement, Yanukovych had blamed the protesters for the violence and said the opposition leaders had "crossed a line when they called people to arms."

"I again call on the leaders of the opposition ... to draw a boundary between themselves and radical forces, which are provoking bloodshed and clashes with the security services," the president said in a statement. "If they don't want to leave - they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals."

He called for a day of mourning Thursday for the dead.

In Moscow, the Kremlin said it put the next disbursement of its bailout on hold amid uncertainty over Ukraine's future."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters that he and his counterparts from Germany and Poland would meet both sides in Ukraine ahead of the EU meeting on possible sanctions. He said he hoped the two sides "will find a way for dialogue."

Possible sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes, which could hit hard the powerful oligarchs who back Yanukovych.

On Wednesday, the U.S. denied admission to the United States of about 20 individual Ukrainians the U.S. believes are responsible for the actions against the most recent violence Tuesday night in Kiev. This action means that if they were to apply for visas, they would be denied.

A senior State Department official, who is closely following the unrest in Ukraine, said these individuals represent the "full chain of command that we consider responsible for ordering security forces to move against the Maidan yesterday." The official was not authorized to be quoted by name and would brief reporters only on condition of anonymity.

CBS/Wire Services


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