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More Dead In Kyiv Clashes, EU Envoys Meet Yanukovych

  • RFE/RL

More people have been killed in fresh clashes between riot police and antigovernment protesters in Kyiv.

Correspondents on the ground report that at least 17 bodies were found on Independence Square where protesters, throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks, broke through police lines on February 20. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The Health Ministry has confirmed that seven people were killed on February 20, bringing to 35 the number of people killed since the latest violence began on February 18.

The Interior Ministry said three servicemen were killed on February 20.

Ukraine's acting interior minister says police have been armed with combat weapons, after two days of fierce fighting on the streets of Kyiv.

In a statement isued on February 20, Vitaliy Zakharschenko said he had signed an order to give police combat weapons to be "used in accordance with the law."

Zakharchenko also urged "extremists" to hand over their weapons and opposition leaders to condemn radical actions.

The use of live ammunition by both sides in the clashes has been widely reported.

The two sides blamed each other for the renewed violence, which came despite a "truce" agreed overnight on February 19 between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said on his website that the resumption of clashes was a "planned provocation by the authorities."

Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov blamed armed "extremists."

"In spite of the truce and the national day of mourning in Ukraine -- we are mourning for all those who died in these confrontations -- extremists from the Maidan have again engaged in active activities and have opened targeted fire, probably from sniper guns, at police officers from the occupied conservatory building," he said. "Police and interior forces have been regrouped and pulled closer to the governmental district [of Kyiv]. We can see that many people on the Maidan are now armed with fire arms, including automatic guns."

The acting mayor of Kyiv, Volodymyr Makeyenko, announced on February 20 that he was resigning from Yanukovych's ruling Party of Regions in protest over the 'bloodshed' in the capital.


LIVE BLOG: Crisis In Ukraine

Three EU foreign ministers are meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych in Kyiv in the latest attempt to promote a political resolution.

The president's meeting with France's Laurent Fabius, Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski has already lasted several hours. Earlier on February 20, the EU envoys met with opposition leaders.

Later on February 20, at an emergency meeting in Brussels, EU foreign ministers are expected to impose targeted measures against Ukrainians responsible for the violence in the country.

In a telephone call, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to accept an offer of help from the European Union, Germany, and others in support of talks between the government and the opposition.

A statement from Merkel's spokesman on February 20 said "playing for time will fuel the conflict further and contains unforeseeable risks."

The statement added that the chancellor urged all sides to cease the use of violence immediately and enforce a truce agreed on the night of February 19.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said U.S. visa bans imposed on Ukrainian officials and similar sanctions considered by the EU are a form of "blackmail."

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is sending Vladimir Lukin to Kyiv to act as a mediator between the Ukrainian government and opposition leaders.

The Kremlin announced the move on February 20 after a phone call between Putin and Yanukovych. Reports say Yanukovych requested the dispatch of a Russian mediator.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia would like to see a strong government, and not "a doormat" in Ukraine.

"We will certainly continue our cooperation with Ukrainian partners in all areas we have achieved agreements on; we will do all we can to fulfill promises given to them," he said. "At the same time it is necessary for the partners themselves to be in good shape and for the Ukrainian government to be legitimate and efficient so that no one could use it as a doormat to wipe their feet. So, yes, we stick to all our agreements but at the same time we find that the government needs to focus on defending people."

The antigovernment protests were triggered by Yanukovych's decision three months ago to pull away from a landmark agreement with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia.

After Yanukovych pulled back from the free trade deal with the EU, Moscow offered Kyiv a $15 billion bailout.


With reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, Interfax, and UNIAN
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