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Kiev's anti-gov't protesters fear new assault

KIEV -- Anti-government protesters in Kiev braced Wednesday for a fresh assault by riot police after a day of fierce clashes left at least 25 people dead in Ukraine's worst crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Security forces stormed the capital's Independence Square overnight, bringing down a volley of tear gas and stun grenades on thousands of demonstrators as authorities sought to reclaim the city's main protest zone.

Demonstrators responded by throwing Molotov cocktails and burning tires.

The square's sprawling tent camp was a scene of devastation early on Wednesday as riot police temporarily halted their assault.

Smoke billowed into the morning sky as lines of riot officers faced off against protesters — both sides clutching shields and wearing helmets and body armor, and divided by a barricade of fire.

European Union foreign ministers have been summoned for crisis talks on Ukraine on Thursday as shock and outrage over the bloodshed in Kiev triggered strident calls for sanctions.

In what would be a policy U-turn for the EU triggered by the escalating violence in Kiev, the bloc's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Wednesday that the EU finally would consider tougher action, including sanctions against those deemed responsible.

“All possible options will be explored, including restrictive measures against those responsible for repression and human rights violations,” she said.

The latest explosion of violence in the three-month standoff in Ukraine, where at least 25 people were killed in fierce clashes on Tuesday, has set alarm bells ringing across the international community.

And in a separate bid to facilitate dialogue between the authorities and protesters, Ashton has asked Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski to travel to Ukraine to start a mission on behalf of the 28 EU member states.

Until Tuesday's bloody upsurge in violence, the bloc had resisted U.S. calls for reprisals, preferring to keep channels of communication open with embattled President Viktor Yanukovych.

But with leaders in Europe saying Yanukovych now had “blood on his hands,” Ashton has convened an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers at 1300 GMT on Thursday.

The EU's political and security committee went into closed door talks on Wednesday to thrash out a consensus on action on Ukraine ahead of the ministers' get-together.

Unanimity is required to agree sanctions, and not all member states are backing punitive measures against the Ukraine regime.

French President Francois Hollande, who is holding talks in Paris with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has called for swift action, asking the EU to impose sanctions at Thursday's meeting.

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Monuments to Kiev's founders burn as anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest in Kiev, Ukraine on Tuesday, Feb. 18. (AP/ AFP)



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