Anti-government protests in Kiev turn deadly

Two reported dead from gunshot wounds in Kiev as thousands of pro-European Union protesters battle with police for a third night

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 3:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 8:55am

Ukraine's anti-government protests claimed their first victims as police retook parts of the capital from demonstrators readying another mass rally.

Pitched battles raged in the centre of Kiev as protesters hurled stones at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

After a third night of street violence, two dead bodies were found at a medical point set up by protesters, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov said.

Prosecutors said the two men were shot with live ammunition while medics at the site said a third man also died after he fell from a high altitude.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso warned the authorities that the EU executive would assess "possible actions" while French President Francois Hollande expressed serious concern over the increasing violence.

Once again I ask people not to succumb to calls from political radicals

President Viktor Yanukovych is struggling to stem rallies against his November snub of a European Union co-operation deal, with police crackdowns fanning people's anger. Anti-protest legislation passed last week backfired by turning a demonstration on Sunday violent.

Yanukovych met the three main leaders of the opposition for talks as fighting raged in Kiev. Alongside powerful national security council secretary Andriy Klyuyev, Yanukovych was meeting with opposition politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk, world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko and ultra-nationalist Oleg Tyagnybok.

The epicentre of the clashes was Grushevsky Street in the city centre, which has been the scene of three days of clashes between thousands of protesters and similar numbers of security personnel. The air was filled with smoke from tyres burned by protesters as well as the stench of tear gas used by the police.

Demonstrators fled as lines of police advanced, protecting themselves with metal shields from rocks thrown by activists. Pushed back, protesters continued to hurl Molotov cocktails and start fires using tyres from earlier barricades. Police used rubber bullets, smoke bombs and stun grenades and deployed armoured vehicles.

Watch: Kiev protesters prepare for another night of clashes

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius called the situation "brutal", saying on his Twitter account that EU calls for dialogue had been ineffective and asking if it was "time for targeted sanctions".

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk recommended "caution" on sanctions, saying such tactics had not been effective elsewhere.

The US embassy in Kiev said in a statement that it would revoke the visas of Ukrainian officials linked to violence in November and December.

As EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called for "genuine" talks to end the crisis, Yanukovych said he had agreed to meet opposition leaders today.

"It's not too late to stop and resolve the conflict through peaceful ways," he said.

"Once again I ask people not to succumb to calls from political radicals," Yanukovych said. "I am against bloodletting, against the use of force, against inciting enmity and violence."

Showing no mood for compromise, Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov labelled the radical protesters behind the clashes as "terrorists". He accused protesters of provoking police force in order to blame the authorities for casualties.

"Terrorists from the Maidan [Independence Square] seized dozens of people and beat them. I am officially stating that these are criminals who must answer for their action," Azarov said.

More than 1,400 protesters and 100 police have reported injuries. The opposition called on people to gather at Kiev's Independence Square later.

Bloomberg, Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse