KIEV, February 20 (RIA Novosti) – At least 25 people were reportedly killed Thursday in renewed unrest in Ukraine’s capital as the violent standoff between the government and opposition pushed the former Soviet nation to the verge of all-out civil conflict.
The killings broke a short-lived suspension of hostilities that followed the clashes this week that claimed 28 lives, including those of at least 10 police officers.
The violence in Ukraine is the worst the nation has seen since it gained independence in 1991.
The AFP news agency cited its correspondents as saying they had seen at least 25 protesters killed in central Kiev. The Reuters agency reported a death toll of 21, while an Associated Press journalist counted 18 bodies.
The deaths reported Thursday brings the estimated total of those killed in the space of three days to more than 50.
New fighting broke out as senior EU envoys were due to meet with President Viktor Yanukovych for talks on the deepening political violence gripping the country.
The talks took place against the backdrop of increasing talk in Western capitals of imposing sanctions against Kiev over the unrest.
US President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged the Ukrainian government to stem the surge of violence in the ex-Soviet country and warned that there would be “consequences” if the deadly clashes continued.
Russia said sanctions would only serve to increase tensions.
“Threatening sanctions and other means of influencing the situation are inappropriate and can bring no good and can only exacerbate the confrontation,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.
On Thursday morning, riot police withdrew from Kiev’s Independence Square, which has served as the focal point of months-long demonstrations against Yanukovych’s government. The police had pushed back demonstrators into the square after a day of fighting that ran into the early hours of Wednesday morning.
More than 800 people were injured in that round of unrest.
After the departure of police from Independence Square, calls rung out from meeting organizers on a stage erected in the space occupied by protesters for barricades to be built to keep out police.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing police officers being taken hostage and beaten by radical elements among the protesters.
Announcers appealed to people not to cross barricades to avoid being targeted by what they said were snipers firing onto people in the crowd.
Eyewitnesses on Twitter posted numerous photos apparently showing police officers wielding automatic and sniper rifles. The photographs could not be independently verified.
Authorities earlier in the day accused the opposition of harboring violent elements, who they said included snipers firing at police. The Interior Ministry said Thursday afternoon that 29 policemen were being treated for gunshot wounds.
The ministry said law enforcement officers would use weapons as permitted under the law, which allows the use of force to protect civilians and repel attacks on police and public offices.
The increasingly intransigent standoff between the government and opposition took a bloody turn Tuesday after a crowd marching on parliament was confronted by law enforcement officers. Pictures from the front lines showed rioters ripping up cobblestones to hurl at police.
Riot police pushed the crowd back to barricades surrounding Independence Square. A section of the square had until Thursday morning been occupied by police.
As of Thursday morning, authorities said 28 people, including at least 10 police officers, had been killed in the clashes. Most of the officers killed reportedly bore gunshot wounds.
Authorities and opposition representatives have traded accusations over who was responsible for escalating the violence. Police say radical protesters have secured hundreds of firearms.
Mass protests initially erupted in late November after the government backed away from deals to deepen political and economic cooperation with the European Union and instead opted for closer ties with Russia.
Although at first discontent was focused on that about-face move on EU ties, protests have since taken on a more general anti-government quality, calling for the president’s ouster and early elections.
In a statement that appeared to underline the broader national risk posed by the unrest in Kiev, the head of the regional legislature in heavily ethnic Russian-populated Crimea, in southern Ukraine, warned on Thursday that the country could fall apart if the situation worsened.
Ukraine is deeply divided between its east, where much of the country’s industry is concentrated and people have closer ties with Russia, and the west, which is more orientated toward Europe and where people favor Ukrainian ahead of the Russian language, which was made compulsory in Soviet times.
Violence rippled out in all directions, to both the east and west of the country, overnight Tuesday from Kiev. As well as Lviv, the occupation of government buildings by anti-government activists and confrontations with police were reported Wednesday in the western cities of Ivano-Frankivsk, Lutsk, Rovno and Ternopil.
Updates throughout the day.