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Ukraine truce short-lived as clashes revive

By Agencies in Kiev | China Daily | Updated: 2014-02-21 07:07

Fighting shifts EU's talks with Yanukovych as death toll hits 43

At least 21 civilians were killed in fresh fighting in Kiev on Thursday, shattering an overnight truce declared by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

The interior ministry said on Thursday that anti-government protesters were holding 67 policemen hostage in the capital. Activists hurling gasoline bombs and paving stones drove riot police off a corner of the central Independence Square, known as the Maidan, and appeared to capture several uniformed officers.

Police responded with stun grenades.

The clashes erupted shortly before three visiting European foreign ministers were due to meet Yanukovych to push for a compromise with his opponents. The meeting was delayed for security reasons but began an hour late.

A Reuters photographer counted 21 bodies in civilian clothes in three places on the square, a few hundred meters from the presidency. That raised the death toll since Tuesday to at least 43.

'Shooting to kill'

A statement from Yanukovych's office said: "They (the protesters) went on the offensive. They are working in organized groups. They are using firearms, including sniper rifles. They are shooting to kill. The number of dead and injured among police officers is dozens."

Shortly after 9 am, the protesters advanced to a line closer to Yanukovych's office and parliament. Television showed activists in combat fatigues leading several captured, uniformed police officers across the square.

Both sides have accused the other of using live ammunition.

The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland were expected to present Yanukovych with a mixture of sanctions and enticements to make a deal with his opponents that could end the bloodshed.

"Black smoke, denotations and gunfire around presidential palace ... officials panicky," tweeted Polish minister Radoslaw Sikorski to explain the delay in the meeting.

Pro-EU activists have been keeping vigil in the square since the president turned his back on a trade pact with the bloc in November and accepted financial aid from Moscow.

Russia, which has been holding back a new loan installment until it sees stability in Kiev, has condemned EU and US support of the opposition demands that Yanukovych, elected in 2010, should share power and hold new elections.

In an apparent criticism of Yanukovych's handling of the crisis, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday that Moscow could only cooperate fully with Ukraine when its leadership was in "good shape", Interfax reported.

The crisis in the sprawling country of 46 million with an ailing economy and endemic corruption has mounted since Yanukovych took a $15 billion Russian bailout instead of a wide-ranging deal with the EU.

The US stepped up pressure on Wednesday by imposing travel bans on 20 senior Ukrainian officials, and EU foreign ministers were scheduled to meet in Brussels later on Thursday to consider similar measures.

A statement on Yanukovych's website announced an accord late on Wednesday with opposition leaders for "the start to negotiations with the aim of ending bloodshed, and stabilizing the situation in the state in the interest of social peace".

Responding cautiously, US President Barack Obama deemed the truce a "welcome step forward", but said the White House would continue to monitor the situation closely to "ensure that actions mirror words".

At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, being hosted by Russia, some members of Ukraine's team have decided to leave, the International Olympic Committee said on Thursday.

Protesters were in a truculent mood despite the overnight lull and columns of men, bearing clubs and chanting patriotic songs, headed to Independence Square at 8:30 am.

"What truce? There is no truce! It is simply war ahead of us! They are provoking us. They throw grenades at us. Burn our homes. We have been here for three months and during that time nothing burned," said 23-year-old Petro Maksimchuk.


 Ukraine truce short-lived as clashes revive

Smoke rises above burning barricades at Independence Square during anti-government protests in Kiev on Thursday. Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters

(China Daily 02/21/2014 page10)

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