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Death Toll Rises As Clashes Embroil Kyiv

February 18, 2014
by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Antigovernment protesters have clashed with riot police in Kyiv in the worst violence to hit the Ukrainian capital in weeks.

A greatly strengthened police presence had gathered by early evening around Independence Square in downtown Kyiv, following officials' warning that 'grave' steps would be taken if the unrest continued beyond a 6 p.m. deadline local time.

Ukrainian authorities said at least nine people died in the capital in the February 18 violence, including two police officers, and scores more were injured -- including dozens of civilians and at least 13 police officers, including some with gunshot wounds.

Opposition medics earlier in the day said three protesters had died of gunshot wounds and that another 150 were injured, some 30 of whom were in serious condition.

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service has released video of two sets of two bodies lying on the ground.

Kyiv emergency officials said one person was found dead at the offices of President Viktor Yanukovych's ruling party. Earlier the same day, the building was stormed by protesters but police then pushed them away.

Protesters also attacked Kyiv city hall, which they had vacated just two days ago as part of a conditional amnesty for protesters detained during the antigovernment demonstrations.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry and the Security Service had given protesters until 6:00 p.m. local time (1600 UTC) to end the unrest or face 'grave actions.'

EU and American officials expressed shock at the dramatic turn of events and appealed for a nonviolent end to the unrest.

Subway stations were closed around Independence Square, the focus of nearly three months of antigovernment demonstrations.​​

Earlier on February 18, several thousand protesters had marched from Independence Square to Ukraine's parliament to press for reforms to curb the president's powers.

The clashes erupted when protesters broke through a police cordon outside the parliament building .

The parliamentary session broke up in chaos after the speaker refused to put the opposition's reform initiatives on the daily agenda.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko called on Yanukovych to immediately call early presidential and parliamentary elections.

'I am appealing to the president of Ukraine, he bears all responsibility, he has all power in the country now,' Klitschko said. 'I am convinced that only he can solve this problem. That's why I'm appealing to him. As a responsible politician, as the president of Ukraine he should call early presidential and parliamentary elections. I'm convinced this will lower the temperature in the society. Do it and it will be a way out of the situation, this will be a brave decision. At the same time I'm urging the president to pull the riot police and Interior forces back off the streets.'

The United States called on Yanukovych to take responsibility for ending the violence.

A spokeswoman for President Barack Obama's National Security Council, Laura Lucas Magnuson, said the United States was 'appalled by the violence taking place in downtown Kyiv' and urged the president to 'immediately de-escalate the situation and end the confrontation at Maidan,' as Independence Square is known.

The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the latest escalation of tension on the 'connivance' of Western politicians.

The head of the foreign affairs committee for the Russian State Duma, the lower house of parliament, Aleksei Pushkov said Ukraine was on the brink of civil war. Pushkov added that a 'significant amount of responsibility for this falls on the West and Western politicians, who are constantly putting pressure on the Ukrainian authorities' and have offered support to antigovernment protesters.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton issued a statement warning of the danger facing Ukraine and its government.

'I am deeply worried about the grave new escalation in [Kyiv] and the reported victims,' the EU's foreign policy chief said. 'I condemn all use of violence, including against public or party buildings.'

She recommended 'the formation of a new inclusive government, progress on constitutional reform and the preparation for transpartent and democratic presidential elections. The EU stands ready to assist Ukraine in this process.'

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said he was 'shocked and saddened by reported killings.'

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt issued an appeal for 'a peaceful and non-violent solution' following news of the deaths during the clashes.
​​
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski called for 'restraint and political compromise.'

Antigovernment protests have been raging for nearly three months in Ukraine, with demonstrators occupying Independence Square and other buildings in a bid to oust Yanukovych.

On February 17, opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Klitschko met in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss Ukraine's political crisis.

Klitschko said after the meeting he urged the German chancellor to impose sanctions on Yanukovych and his inner circle.

Also on February 17, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov announced that Moscow will purchase $2 billion of Ukrainian eurobonds this week.

Kyiv and Moscow agreed in December that Russia would purchase $15 billion of Ukrainian eurobonds after Yanukovych pulled back from a planned free-trade agreement with the European Union, triggering the antigovernment protests.

Amid the ongoing political crisis, the national currency, the hryvnya, has lost 7 percent of its value this year.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, Pravda.com.ua, and Bloomberg

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-police- clash-protesters/25267638.html

Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.



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