Central Kiev once again a war zone again after protesters charge police barricades in Independence Square, Telegraph reporter counts ten bodies.
KIEV, UKRAINE – FEBRUARY 20: (EDITORS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT) Anti-government protesters carry the injured during continued clashes with police in Independence square, despite a truce agreed between the Ukrainian president and opposition leaders on February 20, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. Despite an overnight truce, violence has again flared up as Police stormed the ‘Maidan’ protest camp in Independence Square. Heavy casualties have been reported as Special Forces are using live ammunition. Protesters are seeking to oust President Viktor Yanukovych over corruption and an abandoned trade agreement with the European Union.By Jeff J Mitchell (GETTY)
Hopes that a fresh truce could end the confrontation in Kiev were dashed on Thursday when at least ten protesters were shot dead in the space of two hours.
The ten corpses were laid out on the pavement beneath the awning of a cafe on the northen edge of Independence Square, where thousands of demonstrators are still camped. At least three of the bodies displayed single bullet wounds to the head.
One demonstrator, who gave his name as Andreiy, carried in one body on a green military stretcher. “He died between 90 minutes and two hours ago,” he told a Telegraph reporter. “These are all live rounds. You can see what they do. He and all the others were shot in the head, the neck or the heart. None were shot anywhere else like in the legs.”
An anti-government protester shows a live bullet (EPA)
Andreiy blamed a “professional” government sniper, citing the accuracy of the shots, most of which were aimed at the head. The government has insisted that its forces have been acting with restraint.
In the course of a few minutes, three more bodies were brought in to join seven already lying on the pavement, bringing the total to ten. An Orthodox priest clad in black robes conducted an impromptu service over the dead.
Hundreds of armed protesters bombarded police with Molotov cocktails and rocks, regaining control of most of the square they occupied at the start of the three-month political crisis.
Anti-government protesters carry an injured man on a stretcher in Independence Square (Reuters)
Police responded with rubber bullets and stun grenades, although there were also reports of live rounds being used. It was unclear where the gunfire originated.
Officials were evacuated from Kiev’s main government building as the clashes continued.
In a statement published early on Thursday, before the latest fighting, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people had now died and 287 have been hospitalised 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.
The latest clashes have been the worst since protests kicked off three months ago after President Viktor Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. After Mr Yanukovych shelved the agreement with the EU, Russia announced a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine, whose economy is in tatters.
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.
Smoke rises above burning barricades at Independence Square (Reuters)
The latest bout of street violence began on Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Mr 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. But the protesters held their ground through the night, encircling the protest camp with new burning barricades of tires, furniture and debris.
The ongoing violence on the square on 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 radicalised many more.
A protester stands behind barricades during clashes with police (AFP)
Vitali Klitschko, the opposition leader who along with two others met with the president late on Wednesday to discuss a truce, said the president assured them that 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 manoeuvering 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 heading to 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.
President Barack Obama also stepped in to condemn the violence, warning on Wednesday “there will be consequences” for Ukraine if it continues. The US 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 US holds Ukraine’s government primarily responsible for dealing with peaceful protesters appropriately.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry, in turn, 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.”
A number of Ukrainian athletes left the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi where they were competing in the Winter Olympics to return home amid the crisis, the International Olympic Committee said.
In Kiev, Ukraine’s top security agency accused on protesters Wednesday of seizing hundreds of firearms from its offices and announced a nationwide anti-terrorist operation to restore order.
Protesters stand behind barricades during a face-off against police forces (AFP)
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 Mr Yanukovych’s resignation and an early election and the president apparently prepared to fight until the end.
Opposition parliamentarian Oleh Lyashko warned that Yanukovych himself was in danger.
“Yanukovych, you will end like (Moammar) Gadhafi,” Mr Lyashko told thousands of angry protesters. “Either you, a parasite, will stop killing people or this fate will await you. Remember this, dictator!”
Before the truce announcement, Mr 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.”
In Moscow, 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.”
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 Mr Yanukovych.