Deadly violence shatters Ukraine truce
By Dmitry Zaks and Max Delany, AFP Friday, February 21, 2014, 12:06 am TWN
KIEV -- Ukraine's brittle truce shattered on Thursday in fierce clashes between baton-wielding protesters and riot police that claimed at least 27 lives just as EU envoys were holding crisis talks with the embattled president.
Bodies of anti-government demonstrators lay amid smoldering debris after masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and stones forced gun-toting police from Kiev's Independence Square — the epicenter of the ex-Soviet country's three-month-old crisis.
The retreating police unleashed a hail of rubber bullets on protesters as plumes of acrid smoke billowed into the air and stun grenades exploded.
The lobby of the Ukraina hotel overlooking the square was turned into an impromptu morgue. Bodies of seven dead protesters lay side by side under white sheets on the marble floor in front of the reception desk.
Police said a sniper perched on a hotel roof had injured 20 officers with live ammunition fire, while protest leaders accused the city police of being behind the sniper attacks.
An AFP photographer saw spent live cartridge shells littering the ground on the square but it could not be confirmed who was using the ammunition.
The main government building nearby was evacuated while lawmakers ended a session of parliament early after the violence.
Ukraine's three main opposition leaders called the unrest a "planned provocation" by the pro-Russian government while Moscow blamed it on "extremists and hardliners" who were bent on sparking a civil war.
The clashes left in tatters a truce that President Viktor Yanukovych had called late Wednesday in response to a spurt of violence on Tuesday that killed 28 people.
Yanukovych was holding talks with the foreign ministers of EU powers France and Germany along with Poland ahead of an emergency meeting in Brussels where the EU is expected to impose sanctions against government officials for the unrest.
But Ukraine's former Russia blasted the possible sanctions as "bullying."
The U.S. State Department has already announced travel bans on about 20 senior government figures over the fighting, which turned deadly this week despite apparent concessions.
Yanukovych has appeared to struggle to formulate a clear policy in the face of the deadliest violence since Ukraine's independence and an escalating Cold War-like war of words between the West and former master Moscow over the future of the country sandwiched between Russia and the European Union.
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