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Ukraine: 25 killed, 241 injured in Kiev clashes

KDWN

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Thick, dark smoke rose above the center of the Ukrainian capital amid the boom of police stun grenades Wednesday, as officers in riot gear sought to push demonstrators away from the city’s main square following deadly clashes between police and protesters that left at least 25 people dead and hundreds injured and raised fears of a civil war.

After several hours of relative calm, confrontation flared up again Wednesday afternoon, with hundreds of police amassing on the edges of Independence Square, known as the Maidan, throwing stun grenades and using water cannons in a bid to disperse protesters. Thousands of activists armed with fire bombs and rocks held their ground, defending the square which has been a bastion and symbol for the demonstrators.

The violence Tuesday was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West. It prompted the European Union to threaten sanctions against Ukrainian officials responsible for the violence and triggered angry rebukes from Moscow, which accused the West of triggering the clashes by backing the opposition.

Sanctions would typically include banning leading officials from traveling to the 28-nation bloc and – crucially – freezing their assets there. Travel bans and assets freezes for the powerful oligarchs who back President Viktor Yanukovych could prompt them to pressure him to change course.

But the bad blood runs so high that it’s not clear whether an unstoppable force of conflict has been unleashed: The rising rage on both sides has fueled fears that the 46-million nation in the center of Europe could be sliding deeper into violence that could lead to its breakup. While most people in western regions of Ukraine resent Yanukovych, he still enjoys strong support in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where many want strong ties with Russia.

Neither side now appears willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych’s resignation and early elections and the president prepared to fight till the end.

Radical protesters willing to confront police with violence were largely shunned at the start of the demonstrations three months ago, but they have become a key force in recent weeks, with moderate demonstrators bringing them food and some even preparing Molotov cocktails for them. Police also have turned increasingly brutal after law enforcement officers were killed.

The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the EU in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued ever since, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

The Kremlin said it put the next disbursement of its bailout on hold amid uncertainty over Ukraine’s future and what it described as a “coup attempt.”

Yanukovych on Wednesday blamed the protesters for the violence and said the opposition leaders “crossed a line when they called people to arms.”

The European Union appears poised to impose sanctions as it called an extraordinary meeting of the 28-nation bloc’s foreign ministers for Thursday.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called for “targeted measures against those responsible for violence and use of excessive force can be agreed … as a matter of urgency.”

“It is the political leadership of the country that has a responsibility to ensure the necessary protection of fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Barroso, who heads the EU’s executive arm. “It was with shock and utter dismay that we have been watching developments over the last 24 hours in Ukraine.”

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.

Police responded by attacking the protest camp. Armed with water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets, police dismantled some barricades and took part of the Maidan. But the protesters held their ground through the night, encircling the camp with new burning barricades of tires, furniture and debris.

On Wednesday morning, the center of Kiev was cordoned off by police, the subway was shut down and most shops on Kiev’s main street were closed. But hundreds of Ukrainians still flocked to the opposition camp, some wearing balaclavas and armed with bats, others in everyday clothes and with makeup on, carrying food to protesters.

A group of young men and women poured petrol into plastic bottles, preparing fire bombs, while a volunteer walked past them distributing ham sandwiches from a tray. Another group of activists was busy crushing the pavement into pieces and into bags to fortify barricades.

“The revolution turned into a war with the authorities,” said Vasyl Oleksenko, 57, a retired geologist from central Ukraine, who said he fled the night’s violence fearing for his life, but returned to the square in the morning, feeling ashamed. “We must fight this bloody, criminal leadership. We must fight for our country, our Ukraine.”

Yanukovych was defiant on Wednesday, his tone leaving little hope for a compromise.

“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 (the square) – they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation with them will already be of a different kind.” He also called a day of mourning for the dead on Thursday.

The Health Ministry said 25 people died in the clashes, some from gunshot wounds, and Kiev hospitals were struggling to treat hundreds of injured. Activists also set up a makeshift medical unit inside a landmark Orthodox Church not far from the camp, where volunteer medics were taking care of the wounded.

Meanwhile, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where most residents yearn for stronger ties with the EU and have little sympathy for Yanukovych, protesters seized several government buildings, including the governor’s office, police stations, prosecutors and security agency offices and the tax agency headquarters. They also broke into an Interior Ministry unit and set it on fire. The building was still smoldering Wednesday morning and some protesters were driving around town in police cars they had seized during the night.

Tensions continued mounting. The government imposed restrictions for transport moving toward Kiev, apparently to prevent more opposition activists from coming from the Western part of the country, and at least one train from Lviv was held outside Kiev. Several highways into Kiev were also blocked by police.

Acting Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev told the ITAR-Tass news agency that he has dispatched a paratrooper brigade to Kiev to help protect arsenals. He refused to say if the unit could be used against protesters, the agency said.

Tensions soared after Russia said Monday that it was ready to resume providing the loans that Yanukovych’s government needs to keep Ukraine’s ailing economy afloat. This raised fears among the opposition that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that Putin had a phone conversation with Yanukovych overnight. Peskov said that Putin hasn’t given Yanukovych any advice how to settle the crisis, adding that it’s up to the Ukrainian government.

Peskov also added that the next disbursement of a Russian bailout has remained on hold, saying the priority now is to settle the crisis, which he described as a “coup attempt.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement, blaming the West for the failure to condemn the opposition for the latest bout of violence.

EU leaders took the opposite stance, with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt putting the blame on Yanukovych in an unusually tough statement.

“Today, President Yanukovich has blood on his hands,” Bildt said.

Svetlana Fedas in Lviv, Ukraine, Laura Mills and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and John-Thor Dahlburg and Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed to this report.

Ukraine: 25 killed, 241 injured in Kiev clashes

KDWN

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Thick, dark smoke rose above the center of the Ukrainian capital amid the boom of police stun grenades Wednesday, as officers in riot gear sought to push demonstrators away from the city’s main square following deadly clashes between police and protesters that left at least 25 people dead and hundreds injured and raised fears of a civil war.

After several hours of relative calm, confrontation flared up again Wednesday afternoon, with hundreds of police amassing on the edges of Independence Square, known as the Maidan, throwing stun grenades and using water cannons in a bid to disperse protesters. Thousands of activists armed with fire bombs and rocks held their ground, defending the square which has been a bastion and symbol for the demonstrators.

The violence Tuesday was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, and the worst in the country’s post-Soviet history. It prompted the European Union to threaten sanctions against Ukrainian officials responsible for the violence and triggered angry rebukes from Moscow, which accused the West of triggering the clashes by backing the opposition.

The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the EU in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued ever since, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

The Kremlin said it put the next disbursement of its bailout on hold amid uncertainty over Ukraine’s future and what it described as a “coup attempt.”

President Viktor Yanukovych on Wednesday blamed the protesters for the violence and said the opposition leaders “crossed a line when they called people to arms.”

The European Union appears poised to impose sanctions as it called an extraordinary meeting of the 28-nation bloc’s foreign ministers for Thursday.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called for “targeted measures against those responsible for violence and use of excessive force can be agreed … as a matter of urgency.”

Sanctions would at first typically include banning leading officials from traveling to the 28-nation bloc and freezing their assets there.

“It is the political leadership of the country that has a responsibility to ensure the necessary protection of fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Barroso, who heads the EU’s executive arm. “It was with shock and utter dismay that we have been watching developments over the last 24 hours in Ukraine,” he added.

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.

Police responded by attacking the protest camp. Armed with water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets, police dismantled some barricades and took part of the Maidan. But the protesters held their ground through the night, encircling the camp with new burning barricades of tires, furniture and debris.

On Wednesday morning, the center of Kiev was cordoned off by police, the subway was shut down and most shops on Kiev’s main street were closed. But hundreds of Ukrainians still flocked to the opposition camp, some wearing balaclavas and armed with bats, others in everyday clothes and with makeup on, carrying food to protesters.

A group of young men and women poured petrol into plastic bottles, preparing fire bombs, while a volunteer walked past them distributing ham sandwiches from a tray. Another group of activists was busy crushing the pavement into pieces and into bags to fortify barricades.

“The revolution turned into a war with the authorities,” said Vasyl Oleksenko, 57, a retired geologist from central Ukraine, who said he fled the night’s violence fearing for his life, but returned to the square in the morning, feeling ashamed. “We must fight this bloody, criminal leadership. We must fight for our country, our Ukraine.”

Yanukovych was defiant on Wednesday.

“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 (the square) – they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation with them will already be of a different kind.” He also called a day of mourning for the dead on Thursday.

Yanukovych’s tone left few with hope of compromise. He still enjoys strong support in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where many want strong ties with Russia.

The Health Ministry said 25 people died in the clashes, some from gunshot wounds, and Kiev hospitals were struggling to treat hundreds of injured. Activists also set up a makeshift medical unit inside a landmark Orthodox Church not far from the camp, where volunteer medics were taking care of the wounded.

Meanwhile, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where most residents yearn for stronger ties with the EU and have little sympathy for Yanukovych, protesters seized several government buildings, including the governor’s office, police stations, prosecutors and security agency offices and the tax agency headquarters. They also broke into an Interior Ministry unit and set it on fire. The building was still smoldering Wednesday morning and some protesters were driving around town in police cars they had seized during the night.

Tensions continued mounting. The government imposed restrictions for transport moving toward Kiev, apparently to prevent more opposition activists from coming from the Western part of the country, and at least one train from Lviv was held outside Kiev. Several highways into Kiev were also blocked by police.

Acting Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev told the ITAR-Tass news agency that he has dispatched a paratrooper brigade to Kiev to help protect arsenals. He refused to say if the unit could be used against protesters, the agency said.

Tensions soared after Russia said Monday that it was ready to resume providing the loans that Yanukovych’s government needs to keep Ukraine’s ailing economy afloat. This raised fears among the opposition that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that Putin had a phone conversation with Yanukovych overnight. Peskov said that Putin hasn’t given Yanukovych any advice how to settle the crisis, adding that it’s up to the Ukrainian government.

Peskov also added that the next disbursement of a Russian bailout has remained on hold, saying the priority now is to settle the crisis, which he described as a “coup attempt.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement, blaming the West for the failure to condemn the opposition for the latest bout of violence.

EU leaders took the opposite stance, with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt putting the blame on Yanukovych in an unusually tough statement.

“Today, President Yanukovich has blood on his hands,” Bildt said.

Svetlana Fedas in Lviv, Ukraine, Laura Mills and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and John-Thor Dahlburg and Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed to this report.

Ukraine: 25 killed, 241 injured in Kiev clashes

KDWN

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — As thick black smoke rose from the barricades encircling the protest camp in central Kiev, a tense calm descended Wednesday over the capital and the European Union threatened sanctions against Ukraine following deadly violence between riot police and protesters in which at least 25 people died and 241 were injured.

Thousands of defiant protesters faced rows of riot police who have squeezed them deeper into the Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, which has been a bastion and symbol for the protesters, after overnight clashes that set buildings on fire and brought sharp rebuke from both the West and Russia.

The violence on Tuesday was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, and the worst in the country’s post-Soviet history. The Kremlin said it put the next disbursement of its bailout on hold amid uncertainty over Ukraine’s future and what it described as a “coup attempt”; it criticized the West for the escalation of violence.

President Viktor Yanukovych on Wednesday blamed the protesters for the violence and said the opposition leaders “crossed a line when they called people to arms.”

The European Union appears poised to impose sanctions as it called an extraordinary meeting of the 28-nation bloc’s foreign ministers.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called Wednesday for “targeted measures against those responsible for violence and use of excessive force can be agreed … as a matter of urgency.”

Sanctions would at first typically include banning leading officials from traveling to the 28-nation bloc and freezing their assets there.

“It is the political leadership of the country that has a responsibility to ensure the necessary protection of fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Barroso, who heads the EU’s executive arm. “It was with shock and utter dismay that we have been watching developments over the last 24 hours in Ukraine,” he added.

The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the European Union in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued ever since, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

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 president’s power – a key opposition demand. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.

Police responded by attacking the protest camp. Armed with water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets, police dismantled some barricades and took part of the Maidan. But the protesters still held their ground through the night, encircling the camp with new burning barricades of tires, furniture and debris.

On Wednesday morning, the center of Kiev was cordoned off by police, the subway was shut down and most shops on Kiev’s main street were closed. But hundreds of Ukrainians still flocked to the opposition camp, some wearing balaclavas and armed with bats, others, in every-day clothes and with make-up on, carrying food to protesters.

A group of young men and women poured petrol into plastic bottles, preparing fire bombs, while a volunteer walked past them distributing ham sandwiches to protesters from a tray. Another group of activists was busy crushing the pavement into pieces and into bags to fortify barricades.

“The revolution turned into a war with the authorities,” said Vasyl Oleksenko, 57, a retired geologist from central Ukraine, who said he fled the night’s violence fearing for his life, but returned to the square in the morning, feeling ashamed. “We must fight this bloody, criminal leadership; we must fight for our country, our Ukraine.”

Yanukovych was defiant on Wednesday.

“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 (the square) – they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation with them will already be of a different kind.” He also called a day of mourning for the dead on Thursday.

Yanukovych’s tone left few with hope of compromise after a night of violence. He still enjoys strong support in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where many want strong ties with Russia.

The Health Ministry said 25 people died in the clashes, some from gunshot wounds, and Kiev hospitals were struggling to treat hundreds of injured. Activists also set-up a makeshift medical unit inside an landmark Orthodox Church not far from the camp, where volunteer medics were taking care of the wounded.

Meanwhile, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where most residents yearn for stronger ties with the EU and have little sympathy for Yanukovych, protesters seized several government buildings, including the governor’s office, police stations, prosecutors and security agency offices and the tax agency headquarters. They also broke into an Interior Ministry unit and set it on fire. The building was still smoldering Wednesday morning and some protesters were driving around town in police cars they had seized during the night.

Tensions continued mounting. The government imposed restrictions for transport moving toward Kiev, apparently to prevent more opposition activists from coming from Western part of the country, and at least one train from Lviv was held outside Kiev. Several highways toward into Kiev were also blocked by police.

Acting Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev told the ITAR-Tass news agency that he has dispatched a paratrooper brigade to Kiev to help protect arsenals. He refused to say if the unit could be used against protesters, the agency said.

Tensions soared after Russia said Monday that it was ready to resume providing the loans that Yanukovych’s government needs to keep Ukraine’s ailing economy afloat. This raised fears among the opposition that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that Putin had a phone conversation with Yanukovych overnight. Peskov said that Putin hasn’t given Yanukovych any advice how to settle the crisis, adding that it’s up to the Ukrainian government.

Peskov also added that the next disbursement of a Russian bailout has remained on hold, saying the priority now is to settle the crisis, which he described as a “coup attempt.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement, blaming the West for the failure to condemn the opposition for the latest bout of violence.

EU leaders took the opposite stance, with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt putting the blame on Yanukovych in an unusually tough statement.

“Today, President Yanukovich has blood on his hands,” Bildt said.

Svetlana Fedas in Lviv, Ukraine, Laura Mills and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and John-Thor Dahlburg and Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed to this report.

Ukraine: 25 killed, 241 injured in Kiev clashes

KDWN

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — As thick black smoke rose from the barricades encircling the protest camp in central Kiev on Wednesday, the Ukrainian president blamed opposition leaders for the deadly violence that erupted between riot police and protesters in the capital in which at least 25 people died and 241 were injured.

Thousands of defiant protesters faced rows of riot police who have squeezed them deeper into the Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, which has been a bastion for protesters, after overnight clashes that set buildings on fire and brought sharp rebuke from both the West and Russia.

The violence on Tuesday was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, and the worst in the country’s post-Soviet history.

The protests began in late November after President Viktor Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the European Union in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued ever since, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

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 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 the evening police attacked the protest camp. Armed with water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets, police dismantled some barricades and took part of the Maidan, but the protesters still held their ground through the night, encircling the camp with new burning barricades of tires, furniture and debris.

On Wednesday morning, the center of Kiev was cordoned off by police, the subway was shut down and most shops on Kiev’s main street were closed. But hundreds of Ukrainians still flocked to the opposition camp, some wearing balaclavas and armed with bats, others, in every-day clothes and with make-up on, carrying food to protesters.

A group of young men and women poured petrol into plastic bottles, preparing fire bombs, while a volunteer walked past them distributing ham sandwiches to protesters from a tray. Another group of activists was busy crushing the pavement into pieces and into bags to fortify barricades.

“The revolution turned into a war with the authorities,” said Vasyl Oleksenko, 57, a retired geologist from central Ukraine, who said he fled the night’s violence fearing for his life, but returned to the square in the morning, feeling ashamed. “We must fight this bloody, criminal leadership; we must fight for our country, our Ukraine.”

Yanukovych on Wednesday blamed the protesters for the violence and said the opposition leaders “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 (the square) – they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation with them will already be of a different kind.”

His defiant tone left few with hope of compromise after a night of violence.

The Health Ministry said 25 people died in the clashes, some from gunshot wounds, and Kiev hospitals were struggling to treat hundreds of injured. Activists also set-up a makeshift medical unit inside an landmark Orthodox Church not far from the camp, where volunteer medics were taking care of the wounded.

Tensions soared after Russia said Monday that it was ready to resume providing the loans that Yanukovych’s government needs to keep Ukraine’s ailing economy afloat. This raised fears among the opposition that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.

The deadly clashes have drawn sharp reactions from Washington and generated talk of possible European Union sanctions. Russia has blamed the West for the unrest.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt made an unusually strong statement Wednesday, putting the blame on Yanukovych.

“Today, President Yanukovich has blood on his hands. And I fear that the way he has now embarked on will lead to even more of suffering and violence … The crisis for the country will be deepened and extended. I feel deeply concerned,” Bild to parliament in a statement Wednesday.

Laura Mills contributed to this report from Moscow and John-Thor Dahlburg from Brussels.

Ukraine: 25 killed, 241 injured in Kiev clashes

KDWN

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — As thick black smoke rose from the barricades encircling the protest camp in central Kiev on Wednesday, the Ukrainian president blamed opposition leaders for the deadly violence that erupted between riot police and protesters in the capital in which at least 25 people died and 241 were injured.

The violence on Tuesday was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, and the worst in the country’s post-Soviet history.

Amid cries of “Glory to Ukraine!” and with flaming tires lighting up the night sky, thousands of riot police armed with stun grenades and water cannons attacked the sprawling protest camp in the center of Kiev. With the boom of exploding stun grenades and fireworks nearly drowning out his words at times, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged overnight the 20,000 protesters to defend the camp on Independence Square that has been the heart of the protests.

“We will not go anywhere from here,” Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion, told the crowd, speaking from a stage in the square as tents and tires burned around him, releasing huge plumes of smoke. “This is an island of freedom and we will defend it,” he said.

Early on Wednesday, many were still heeding his call.

“I am not going to sit and wait while they kill me,” said 32-year-old Anton Rybkovich. “I’m going to attack. The more force the government uses, the more harsh our response will be.”

About 10,000 people remained on the square as piles of rubber tires continued to burn. A large building that the protesters had used as a headquarters caught fire and had been abandoned during the night, as police used loudspeakers to urge women and children to leave the square because an “anti-terrorist” operation was under way.

President Viktor Yanukovych said that opposition leaders “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 (the square) – they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation with them will already be of a different kind.”

His defiant tone left few with hope of compromise after a night of violence, the worst in the country’s post-Soviet history.

As the street battles grew to a fever pitch late on Tuesday, the protesters appeared to sense that Ukraine’s political standoff was reaching a critical turning point. Waving Ukrainian and opposition party flags, they shouted “Glory to Ukraine!” and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.

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.”

Klitschko urged the protesters and police to stop the escalation of violence, and said opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk was trying to arrange for more negotiations with Yanukovych later Wednesday, although Yanukovych’s statement made no mention of an imminent meeting with opposition leaders.

The violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of once again ignoring their demands. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.

Tensions had soared after Russia said Monday that it was ready to resume providing the loans that Yanukovych’s government needs to keep Ukraine’s ailing economy afloat. This raised fears among the opposition that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.

The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the European Union in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued, however, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

Until Monday, the government and the opposition had appeared to be making some progress toward resolving the political crisis peacefully. In exchange for the release of scores of jailed activists, protesters on Sunday vacated a government building that they had occupied since Dec. 1.

Russia also may have wanted to see Kiev remain calm through the Winter Olympics in Sochi, so as not to distract from President Vladimir Putin’s games. But after the outburst of violence against riot police, Yanukovych’s government may have felt it had no choice but to try to restore order.

While Kiev and western Ukraine have risen up against Yanukovych, he remains popular in the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where economic and cultural ties with Russia are strong.

As darkness fell Tuesday, law enforcement agencies vowed to bring order to the streets and they shut down subway stations in the center of the capital. In Independence Square, Orthodox priests prayed for peace.

“We see that this regime again has begun shooting people; they want to sink Ukraine in blood. We will not give in to a single provocation,” Yatsenyuk told the protesters. “We will not take one step back from this square. We have nowhere to retreat to. Ukraine is behind us, Ukraine’s future is behind us.”

As angry protesters outside parliament hurled stones at police and set trucks blocking their way on fire, riot police retaliated with stun grenades and fired what appeared to be small metal balls, as smoke from burning tires and vehicles billowed over Kiev.

The coordinator for the opposition’s medical response team, Oleh Musiy, said more than 400 protesters were injured. He also claimed that about 20 had died, but this could not independently be confirmed.

One of the civilians was found dead after protesters stormed the office of the president’s Party of Regions. Police pushed them away, but when firefighters arrived to put out a fire, they discovered the body of an office employee, Kiev’s emergency services said.

Justice Minister Olena Lukash, a close Yanukovych aide, accused the opposition of violating earlier agreements with the government and blamed protest leaders for the violence.

In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden expressed his “grave concern” in telephone call to Yanukovych, urging him to pull back government forces and exercise maximum restraint. The White House said Biden also called on Ukraine’s government to address the protesters’ “legitimate grievances” and put forward proposals for political reform.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged both sides to end the violence, halt their ultimatums and hold high-level talks.

U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey R. Payatt 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.

Germany has refused to back Washington’s calls for sanctions against Ukraine’s government to pressure it into accepting opposition demands for reforms.

But when central Kiev exploded in violence Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Ukrainian security forces have a “particular responsibility” to de-escalate the situation, adding that the EU might resort to unspecified sanctions against individuals. “Whoever is responsible for decisions that lead to bloodshed in the center of Kiev or elsewhere in Ukraine will need to consider that Europe’s previous reluctance for personal sanctions must be rethought,” he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the West for the escalation of the violence and called on the opposition to work with the government to find a way out of the crisis.

“What is happening is a direct result of the conniving politics of Western politicians and European bodies,” the ministry said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed shock at the escalating and “unacceptable” violence and called for “the immediate renewal of genuine dialogue leading to rapid results,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said. “Preventing further instability and bloodshed is a paramount priority.”

Ukraine: 25 killed, 241 injured in Kiev clashes

KDWN

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — As thick black smoke rose from the barricades encircling the protest camp in central Kiev on Wednesday, the Ukrainian president blamed opposition leaders for the deadly violence that erupted between riot police and protesters in the capital in which at least 25 people died and 241 were injured.

The violence on Tuesday was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, and the worst in the country’s post-Soviet history.

Amid cries of “Glory to Ukraine!” and with flaming tires lighting up the night sky, thousands of riot police armed with stun grenades and water cannons attacked the sprawling protest camp in the center of Kiev. With the boom of exploding stun grenades and fireworks nearly drowning out his words at times, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged overnight the 20,000 protesters to defend the camp on Independence Square that has been the heart of the protests.

“We will not go anywhere from here,” Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion, told the crowd, speaking from a stage in the square as tents and tires burned around him, releasing huge plumes of smoke. “This is an island of freedom and we will defend it,” he said.

Early on Wednesday, many were still heeding his call.

“I am not going to sit and wait while they kill me,” said 32-year-old Anton Rybkovich. “I’m going to attack. The more force the government uses, the more harsh our response will be.”

About 10,000 people remained on the square as piles of rubber tires continued to burn. A large building that the protesters had used as a headquarters caught fire and had been abandoned during the night, as police used loudspeakers to urge women and children to leave the square because an “anti-terrorist” operation was under way.

President Viktor Yanukovych said that opposition leaders “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 (the square) – they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation with them will already be of a different kind.”

His defiant tone left few with hope of compromise after a night of violence, the worst in the country’s post-Soviet history.

As the street battles grew to a fever pitch late on Tuesday, the protesters appeared to sense that Ukraine’s political standoff was reaching a critical turning point. Waving Ukrainian and opposition party flags, they shouted “Glory to Ukraine!” and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.

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.”

Klitschko urged the protesters and police to stop the escalation of violence, and said opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk was trying to arrange for more negotiations with Yanukovych later Wednesday, although Yanukovych’s statement made no mention of an imminent meeting with opposition leaders.

The violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of once again ignoring their demands. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.

Tensions had soared after Russia said Monday that it was ready to resume providing the loans that Yanukovych’s government needs to keep Ukraine’s ailing economy afloat. This raised fears among the opposition that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.

The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the European Union in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued, however, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

Until Monday, the government and the opposition had appeared to be making some progress toward resolving the political crisis peacefully. In exchange for the release of scores of jailed activists, protesters on Sunday vacated a government building that they had occupied since Dec. 1.

Russia also may have wanted to see Kiev remain calm through the Winter Olympics in Sochi, so as not to distract from President Vladimir Putin’s games. But after the outburst of violence against riot police, Yanukovych’s government may have felt it had no choice but to try to restore order.

While Kiev and western Ukraine have risen up against Yanukovych, he remains popular in the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where economic and cultural ties with Russia are strong.

As darkness fell Tuesday, law enforcement agencies vowed to bring order to the streets and they shut down subway stations in the center of the capital. In Independence Square, Orthodox priests prayed for peace.

“We see that this regime again has begun shooting people; they want to sink Ukraine in blood. We will not give in to a single provocation,” Yatsenyuk told the protesters. “We will not take one step back from this square. We have nowhere to retreat to. Ukraine is behind us, Ukraine’s future is behind us.”

As angry protesters outside parliament hurled stones at police and set trucks blocking their way on fire, riot police retaliated with stun grenades and fired what appeared to be small metal balls, as smoke from burning tires and vehicles billowed over Kiev.

The coordinator for the opposition’s medical response team, Oleh Musiy, said more than 400 protesters were injured. He also claimed that about 20 had died, but this could not independently be confirmed.

One of the civilians was found dead after protesters stormed the office of the president’s Party of Regions. Police pushed them away, but when firefighters arrived to put out a fire, they discovered the body of an office employee, Kiev’s emergency services said.

Justice Minister Olena Lukash, a close Yanukovych aide, accused the opposition of violating earlier agreements with the government and blamed protest leaders for the violence.

In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden expressed his “grave concern” in telephone call to Yanukovych, urging him to pull back government forces and exercise maximum restraint. The White House said Biden also called on Ukraine’s government to address the protesters’ “legitimate grievances” and put forward proposals for political reform.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged both sides to end the violence, halt their ultimatums and hold high-level talks.

U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey R. Payatt 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.

Germany has refused to back Washington’s calls for sanctions against Ukraine’s government to pressure it into accepting opposition demands for reforms.

But when central Kiev exploded in violence Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Ukrainian security forces have a “particular responsibility” to de-escalate the situation, adding that the EU might resort to unspecified sanctions against individuals. “Whoever is responsible for decisions that lead to bloodshed in the center of Kiev or elsewhere in Ukraine will need to consider that Europe’s previous reluctance for personal sanctions must be rethought,” he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the West for the escalation of the violence and called on the opposition to work with the government to find a way out of the crisis.

“What is happening is a direct result of the conniving politics of Western politicians and European bodies,” the ministry said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed shock at the escalating and “unacceptable” violence and called for “the immediate renewal of genuine dialogue leading to rapid results,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said. “Preventing further instability and bloodshed is a paramount priority.”

Ukraine: 25 killed, 241 injured in Kiev clashes

KDWN

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — As thick black smoke rose from the barricades encircling the protest camp in central Kiev on Wednesday, the Ukrainian president blamed opposition leaders for the deadly violence that erupted between riot police and protesters in the capital in which at least 25 people died and 241 were injured.

The violence on Tuesday was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, and the worst in the country’s post-Soviet history.

Amid cries of “Glory to Ukraine!” and with flaming tires lighting up the night sky, thousands of riot police armed with stun grenades and water cannons attacked the sprawling protest camp in the center of Kiev. With the boom of exploding stun grenades and fireworks nearly drowning out his words at times, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged overnight the 20,000 protesters to defend the camp on Independence Square that has been the heart of the protests.

“We will not go anywhere from here,” Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion, told the crowd, speaking from a stage in the square as tents and tires burned around him, releasing huge plumes of smoke. “This is an island of freedom and we will defend it,” he said.

Early on Wednesday, many were still heeding his call.

“I am not going to sit and wait while they kill me,” said 32-year-old Anton Rybkovich. “I’m going to attack. The more force the government uses, the more harsh our response will be.”

About 10,000 people remained on the square as piles of rubber tires continued to burn. A large building that the protesters had used as a headquarters caught fire and had been abandoned during the night, as police used loudspeakers to urge women and children to leave the square because an “anti-terrorist” operation was under way.

President Viktor Yanukovych said that opposition leaders “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 (the square) – they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation with them will already be of a different kind.”

His defiant tone left few with hope of compromise after a night of violence, the worst in the country’s post-Soviet history.

As the street battles grew to a fever pitch late on Tuesday, the protesters appeared to sense that Ukraine’s political standoff was reaching a critical turning point. Waving Ukrainian and opposition party flags, they shouted “Glory to Ukraine!” and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.

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.”

Klitschko urged the protesters and police to stop the escalation of violence, and said opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk was trying to arrange for more negotiations with Yanukovych later Wednesday, although Yanukovych’s statement made no mention of an imminent meeting with opposition leaders.

The violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of once again ignoring their demands. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.

Tensions had soared after Russia said Monday that it was ready to resume providing the loans that Yanukovych’s government needs to keep Ukraine’s ailing economy afloat. This raised fears among the opposition that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.

The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the European Union in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued, however, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

Until Monday, the government and the opposition had appeared to be making some progress toward resolving the political crisis peacefully. In exchange for the release of scores of jailed activists, protesters on Sunday vacated a government building that they had occupied since Dec. 1.

Russia also may have wanted to see Kiev remain calm through the Winter Olympics in Sochi, so as not to distract from President Vladimir Putin’s games. But after the outburst of violence against riot police, Yanukovych’s government may have felt it had no choice but to try to restore order.

While Kiev and western Ukraine have risen up against Yanukovych, he remains popular in the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where economic and cultural ties with Russia are strong.

As darkness fell Tuesday, law enforcement agencies vowed to bring order to the streets and they shut down subway stations in the center of the capital. In Independence Square, Orthodox priests prayed for peace.

“We see that this regime again has begun shooting people; they want to sink Ukraine in blood. We will not give in to a single provocation,” Yatsenyuk told the protesters. “We will not take one step back from this square. We have nowhere to retreat to. Ukraine is behind us, Ukraine’s future is behind us.”

As angry protesters outside parliament hurled stones at police and set trucks blocking their way on fire, riot police retaliated with stun grenades and fired what appeared to be small metal balls, as smoke from burning tires and vehicles billowed over Kiev.

The coordinator for the opposition’s medical response team, Oleh Musiy, said more than 400 protesters were injured. He also claimed that about 20 had died, but this could not independently be confirmed.

One of the civilians was found dead after protesters stormed the office of the president’s Party of Regions. Police pushed them away, but when firefighters arrived to put out a fire, they discovered the body of an office employee, Kiev’s emergency services said.

Justice Minister Olena Lukash, a close Yanukovych aide, accused the opposition of violating earlier agreements with the government and blamed protest leaders for the violence.

In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden expressed his “grave concern” in telephone call to Yanukovych, urging him to pull back government forces and exercise maximum restraint. The White House said Biden also called on Ukraine’s government to address the protesters’ “legitimate grievances” and put forward proposals for political reform.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged both sides to end the violence, halt their ultimatums and hold high-level talks.

U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey R. Payatt 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.

Germany has refused to back Washington’s calls for sanctions against Ukraine’s government to pressure it into accepting opposition demands for reforms.

But when central Kiev exploded in violence Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Ukrainian security forces have a “particular responsibility” to de-escalate the situation, adding that the EU might resort to unspecified sanctions against individuals. “Whoever is responsible for decisions that lead to bloodshed in the center of Kiev or elsewhere in Ukraine will need to consider that Europe’s previous reluctance for personal sanctions must be rethought,” he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the West for the escalation of the violence and called on the opposition to work with the government to find a way out of the crisis.

“What is happening is a direct result of the conniving politics of Western politicians and European bodies,” the ministry said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed shock at the escalating and “unacceptable” violence and called for “the immediate renewal of genuine dialogue leading to rapid results,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said. “Preventing further instability and bloodshed is a paramount priority.”