At least three people have been killed as police raid a protest camp in downtown Kyiv. Clashes broke out between the police and protesters in the latest escalation of violence in the Ukrainian capital.
Two people died after suffering gunshot wounds in an early-morning raid by police on Wednesday on a barricaded protest camp in downtown Kyiv, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's office has said. A third death occurred when a man fell from a high roof, possibly while being chased by police. Several arrests have also been made.
In the early hours of Wednesday, Ukrainian police advanced on the protest camp in an attempt to get the activists gathered there to disperse. The police, wearing riot gear and helmets, began tearing down the barricades surroundings the camp on Grushevsky Street. Protesters responded by throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the advancing officers, who fired rubber bullets and launched stun grenades into the crowd.
It is not clear if the wounds that killed the two protesters were from rubber bullets or live ammunition.
In response to the violence on Wednesday morning, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the protesters.
"As Ukrainian Prime Minister, I officially declare that the responsibility for the victims – of which there are already some, unfortunately – lies with the organizers and participants of the mass demonstrations," he said, calling the protesters "criminals" that will be made to answer for what they did.
The opposition, on the other hand, said President Viktor Yanukovich and Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko were to blame for the Ukrainian citizens who had been shot.
Yanukovich helds talks with opposition leaders later on Wednesday, raising the slight possibility that there could be some movement toward ending the protests, which have gone on for two months but only turned violent on Wednesday.
Yanukovich said in a statement he was "against bloodshed, against the use of force, against inciting enmity and violence."
Weighing in from abroad
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has issued a statement condemning the violence.
"I strongly condemn the violent escalation of events in Kyiv overnight leading to casualties," Ashton said. "The reported deaths of several protesters is a source of extreme worry and my sympathy goes to all those affected."
She added that Ukrainian citizens' rights of assembly, freedom of expression and media "must be fully respected and protected."
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the violence could result in "action" to be taken by the EU against Ukraine, but did not elaborate on what form this might take.
The United States has imposed visa restrictions on Ukrainian officials who have reportedly been involved in police action against protesters in November and December.
No end in sight
On Tuesday, Azarov had warned that the use of force could be implemented under new laws if "provocateurs" did not cease. The laws allow for prison terms of up to five years for blocking access to public buildings and permits the arrest of protesters wearing masks or helmets.
Since Yanukovich rejected a trade deal with the European Union, which resulted in stronger ties with Russia, thousands of Ukrainians have protested the decision. The past few days have seen particularly violent clashes. One group of protesters, using a burned-out police bus as a barricade, erected a catapult to launch projectiles at police.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the protesters actions on Tuesday for using violent means. He also addressed European leaders who have been meeting with protesters as the demonstrations continue.
"We would prefer that some of our European colleagues refrained from acting unceremoniously over the Ukrainian crisis," said Lavrov. "It is just distasteful."
mz/hc (AP, AFP, dpa)