A riot police officer's uniform catches fire during clashes
with pro-European protesters in Kiev. REUTERS/Stringer
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has met opposition
leaders in an attempt to defuse street violence in which three
people were killed overnight, but tensions remained high as his
prime minister branded anti-government protesters "terrorists."
The talks, the first concrete move toward negotiating an end
to two months of civil unrest, ended after about three hours,
but there was no immediate word from the presidency.
Opposition leaders said they would give a report on the talks
later to their supporters rallying on Kiev's central
Two of the dead men perished from bullet wounds, Ukraine's
general prosecutor said, and the third died after plunging
from the top of Dynamo football stadium while fighting with
They were the first protest-related deaths since the crisis
erupted last November after Yanukovich ditched a trade deal
with the European Union in favour of financial aid from
Soviet-era overlord Russia to prop up Ukraine's ailing
The protesters, inflamed by news of the deaths, faced off
again with riot police, whom they have battled in bloody
clashes near the government headquarters since Sunday night.
Though repelled by forays of baton-wielding riot police, they
continued to return to the spot, setting tyres ablaze and
sending clouds of black smoke wafting into police lines.
Fifty people were detained overnight and 29 of them were
officially charged with taking part in mass unrest, police
said. A total of 167 police have been injured, officials
said. There was no estimate of the number of civilians
Before going into the talks with opposition leaders,
including boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko, former
economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and far-right nationalist
Oleh Tyahnibok, Yanukovich issued a statement deploring the
loss of life.
Urging people not to heed the calls of "political radicals,"
Yanukovich said: "I am against bloodshed, against the use of
force, against inciting enmity and violence."
Yanukovich has so far stood firm against opposition demands
for the dismissal of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov's
government and the prosecution of the interior minister, whom
the protesters hold responsible for heavy-handed police
The meeting with Yanukovich marked a small victory for the
three leaders who had sought his direct participation in
But with some radical protesters ignoring pleas for
non-violent action, it seemed unlikely opposition leaders
would be satisfied with a repetition of appeals from
Yanukovich to rein in the demonstrators.
Taking a tough line that may still foreshadow a big police
crackdown, Azarov told a cabinet meeting: "Terrorists from
the 'Maidan' (Independence Square) seized dozens of people
and beat them. I am officially stating that these are
criminals who must answer for their action."
He blamed opposition leaders for inciting "criminal action"
by backing the anti-government protests, which he said had
destabilised Ukraine, a country of 46 million people.
The Kiev demonstrations turned more violent on Sunday after
harsher police tactics and the introduction of sweeping
anti-protest legislation which the opposition says paved the
way for a police state in the former Soviet republic.
Though hundreds of people have continued to protest
peacefully in an encampment on Independence Square, a smaller
group of hardcore radicals have now effectively hijacked the
movement by attacking police with petrol bombs, fireworks and
cobblestones. Police have replied with rubber bullets, stun
grenades and tear gas.
Azarov said that police deployed on the streets did not
possess firearms and the Interior Ministry has denied that
police have used guns during the crisis.
U.S. REVOKES VISAS
In a move underlining Washington's disapproval of Ukraine's
handling of the protests, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev said it
had revoked the visas of several Ukrainians linked to police
violence against the demonstrators in November and December.
It did not name the officials, but said it was considering
further action against those responsible for the current
In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said the United
States strongly condemned the violence, as well as "the
targeted attacks against journalists and peaceful
"We urge all sides to immediately de-escalate the situation
and refrain from violence," spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a
Harf blamed increasing tensions in Ukraine on anti-democratic
measures taken by the government, but also said the
extreme-rightist group Pravy Sektor was inflaming tensions.
The European Union called on Ukraine's government and
opposition to "engage in a genuine dialogue."
"I strongly condemn the violent escalation of events in Kiev
overnight leading to casualties. The reported deaths of
several protesters are a source of extreme worry," EU foreign
policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU
could also take action against Ukraine after reports of the
With the opposition calling for a fresh rally on Wednesday,
many shops, businesses and bank branches said they were
closing early out of fear of more unrest.
Even as Yanukovich and opposition leaders met, black-helmeted
riot police launched another operation to push back
protesters, using an armoured personnel carrier.
But the police operation stopped well short of Independence
Square, crucible of the so-called Euro-Maidan protests.
Wednesday's violence erupted ironically as Ukraine marked
National Unification Day - the day in 1919 which brought
together that part of the country that had been under Russian
rule with that which had been in the Austro-Hungarian empire.