Thousands of anti-government protesters remained in the main square in Ukraine\’s capital Wednesday, after a day of fierce clashes with riot police left at least 25 people dead in the worst violence in three months of political demonstrations.
Ukraine\’s President Viktor Yanukovych has blamed opposition leaders for the violence, which escalated as riot police charged the main opposition protest camp in Kyiv late Tuesday. Mr. Yanukovych said activists who urged others protesters to bring weapons to the anti-government demonstration have disregarded the principles of democracy and must face legal repercussions.
Police and opposition representatives said many of those killed in the unrest were hit by gunshots. Dozens of the injured were serious condition. Nine of the dead were police officers.
European Union officials have called an emergency meeting on Ukraine at which members will discuss whether to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has said she is "deeply worried" about the situation and added that the EU is ready to assist Ukraine in a return to the parliamentary process. She said the EU will consider "all possible options" as responses to the unrest, including "restrictive measures" against those responsible for the violence.
Earlier, Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko met with President Yanukovych for talks, but the meeting failed to produce a breakthrough. Klitschko said the president demanded protesters "stop the standoff" and unconditionally clear the square. He urged the pro-Western demonstrators occupying Kyiv\’s Independence Square – also known as Maidan – to defend their positions. Thick black smoke could be seen rising from the barricades encircling the protest camp early Wednesday.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Tuesday\’s violence was a "direct result of connivance by Western politicians and European structures that have shut their eyes … on the aggressive actions of radical forces".
It said that the opposition\’s actions are being viewed by Moscow as an attempted coup.
Echoing Ashton\’s sentiments, a number of Western countries, including the US and France, called for an end to the violence in Kiev and restraint by security forces.
UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has condemned the violence and urged all sides to show restraint. She called for an independent investigation to ensure accountability for the deadly clashes.
Unrest broke out in Ukraine last year when Yanukovich rejected a free-trade agreement with the European Union and opted for a $15bn package of Russian credits and cheaper gas to support Ukraine\’s ailing economy in November.
Source: VOA and agencies