Truce crumbles in Ukraine; protesters claim 100 dead

Truce crumbles in Ukraine; protesters claim 100 dead

An injured demonstrator is carried away from Independence Square in Kiev on Thursday.(Photo by LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
by Jason.Hanna

Ukraine's increasingly violent political crisis escalated again Thursday as gunfire erupted in the capital, Kiev, leaving at least 100 people dead, according to the head of the protesters' medical service.

The violence happened at Independence Square, where anti-government protesters have gathered since November. What sparked
Thursday's gunfire wasn't clear, but a CNN crew at the scene reported that some protesters -- after the government had declared a truce -- were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces. The gunfire happened after the security forces began retreating and protesters pursued them, the CNN crew said.

Meanwhile, there's been claims of sniper fire on the part of government forces. In video shot by Radio Free Europe, men wearing what appear to be government uniforms fired at unseen targets with automatic rifles and a sniper rifle with a telescopic sight. CNN could not immediately confirm their target.

President Viktor Yanukovych's office said the protesters broke the truce, and accused the opposition of using the pause to "mobilize and get weapons to protesters." The violence comes at a delicate time for the government, which is under international pressure -- including threats of sanctions -- to wrap up the crisis peacefully.

Check below for the latest. Also, read the full story and this piece on what led to these demonstrations.

  • Here's a report by CNN's Phil Black on how the gunfire unfolded:
  • One initial factor in the protests was demonstrators' unhappiness with President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to halt a prospective trade deal with the European Union and instead turn toward Russia. On Thursday, diplomats from both the E.U. and Russia were wading deep into the crisis.

    A group of E.U. foreign ministers met with Yanukovych in Ukraine to discuss possible solutions, and other E.U. diplomats were to meet in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday to discuss the crisis. European diplomats have been discussing the possibility of sanctions against the Ukrainian government, which could include freezing assets and restricting the visas of officials deemed responsible for violence in that country, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

    Meanwhile, the Russian ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, blamed protesters in Kiev for the unrest there. He said Thursday that efforts to carry out what he called a "violent coup" should stop.

    Russia announced it is sending a mediator to Kiev at Yanukovych's request, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said Thursday, citing a Kremlin spokesman.

  • Night has fallen on Kiev, where hundreds of protesters still are in Independence Square. The following video gives a bird's-eye perspective of what the scene looked like earlier:
  • The United States also has warned that it will consider sanctions against leaders in the Ukrainian government because of the violence there. Asset freezes on people believed to be involved in the crackdown are being "fast-tracked" by the Obama administration, a senior administration official said Thursday.

    Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has said protesters started today's violence. But the White House doesn't appear to be moved by that argument -- it said Thursday that the United States is "outraged" by images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people, and urged Yanukovych to "immediately withdraw" those forces from Kiev and "respect the right of peaceful protest."

    The Obama administration also urged protesters to "express themselves peacefully" and urged the Ukrainian military to "not get involved.

    Protesters advance to new positions in Kiev on Thursday. (Photo by LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
    by Jason.Hanna

  • The Ukrainian government hasn't released a casualty toll for Thursday, but it stresses that an unspecified number of police officers have been killed and injured, and many more have been taken hostage by protesters.

    The Interior Ministry said that protesters took about 70 police officers hostage Thursday, and that the ministry reserves the right to use force to free them.

    Meanwhile, a number of people purporting to be police officers appeared on Ukrainian television Thursday saying they had joined protesters of their own free will. It wasn't clear if those claiming to be police officers were among those allegedly taken hostage.

  • The following is video of what today's carnage in Kiev looked like -- protesters with makeshift shields drag the wounded from the streets; dead and wounded people taken to a hotel. Warning: Graphic content. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports.
  • The European Union seems to have made a decision: It has agreed to freeze the assets and ban the visas of those it deems responsible for the violence in Ukraine, a EU diplomat who declined to be named told CNN on Thursday.

    The EU has also agreed to impose a ban on equipment that could be used for oppression in Ukraine, according to the diplomat.

    by Jason.Hanna edited by eric.williams2 2/20/2014 5:57:45 PM
  • The European Union's press office has confirmed that its foreign affairs council agreed Thursday to freeze assets and ban visas of "those responsible for human rights violations, violence and use of excessive force" in Ukraine. It also decided to suspend export licenses "on equipment which might be used for internal repression," the press office said.

    The EU hasn't released a list of people who would be sanctioned.  At a news conference on the issue, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton did not directly answer questions as to whether the sanctions could be altered if discussions between three European foreign ministers and Ukrainian leaders -- taking place Thursday in Kiev -- work to the EU's liking.

    Ashton said the EU wants "the formation of a new and inclusive government" in Ukraine; constitutional reform there; "and the creation of conditions for democratic elections."

    Activists pay their respects to protesters killed in clashes with police in Kiev's Independence Square on Thursday. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    by Jason.Hanna

    by Jason.Hanna edited by eric.williams2 2/20/2014 6:53:19 PM

  • Three police officers were killed in Thursday's violence, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said. That brings the total number of police officers killed in violence this week to 13, according to the ministry.

    Meanwhile, the ministry has admitted that police have used firearms, but said they did so to protect unarmed police officers who were in danger.

  • Sergey Bubka
    by Jason.Hanna
    Former Ukrainian sporting great Sergey Bubka, now head of Ukraine's Olympic
    Committee, has weighed in on the crisis.

    The violence and bloodshed on the streets of Kiev have left Ukraine on the "brink of catastrophe," the former pole vault champion told CNN in Sochi, Russia, on Thursday.

    "We must listen.
    We must go back to dialogue, save the peace, save our Ukraine and save our nation."
  • Reacting to Western sanctions, Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.N. Yuriy Sergeyev said that the most important thing is not “judging what is going on” but “to stop the violence.

    Sergeyev, speaking with CNN’s Hala Gorani, expressed his “deepest condolences” for the friends and families of those killed in what he called “atrocities.”

    “The only way out of this crisis (is) to put all the parties involved to the negotiation table,” he said.

    “The violence should be stopped. And what is needed (is) the wisdom and responsibility from all the sides.

  • We noted earlier that three European foreign ministers have been in Kiev, talking with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the Ukrainian opposition. Now one of those officials, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, says via Twitter that progress has been made, but "important differences remain."
  • World leaders worked the phones Thursday to discuss the seemingly deteriorating situation in the Ukraine. British Prime Minister David Cameron, for instance, talked by phone with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Cameron also conversed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who herself talked about the crisis with U.S. President Barack Obama.
  • Ukraine's parliament passed a resolution late Thursday stating that security forces should stop using guns (something that's already illegal for protesters), back off from their positions around Maidan and denouncing the "anti-terror" operation that had been announced earlier. But whether this Thursday night resolution -- which doesn't need the president's signature -- has an impact remains to be seen.
  • @leonidragozin Maidan self defense website has now posted a statement claiming all police in its custody released. To welcome if confirmed.

  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden talked late Thursday with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, making clear Washington "is prepared to sanction those officials responsible for the violence," the White House said. The Ukrainian leader has also been in touch with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In comments Thursday, the U.N. leader called for "genuine dialogue" and said he was "appalled by the use of firearms by both the police and protesters" -- even as he stressed it is crucial, especially, that authorities exercise restraint.

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