Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, speaking to his cabinet, took a
tough line on the protesters, who on Wednesday massed anew in their
hundreds, inflamed by reports of at least three demonstrators dying
overnight — two of them from gunshot wounds.
In words that appeared to foreshadow a police crackdown, Azarov
said: "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."
Azarov accused opposition leaders of inciting "criminal action" by
calling for anti-government protests, which he said destabilized the
situation in Ukraine, a large former Soviet republic of 46 million
But in a move underlining U.S. criticism of his government's
heavy-handed treatment of the protesters, the U.S. embassy in Kiev
said it had revoked the visas of several Ukrainians linked to police
violence against protesters in November and December.
It did not name the officials but said it was considering further
action against those responsible for the current violence.
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.
WEEKS OF PROTESTS
The protesters have been out on the streets since November, angered
by President Viktor Yanukovich's decision to shun a trade pact with
the EU and instead accept financial aid from Russia to prop up
Ukraine's ailing economy.
But events took a violent turn on Sunday after a mass rally called
by the opposition to protest against sweeping new laws that ban any
sort of anti-government protest.
In continued overnight violence into Wednesday, two people died from
gunshot wounds, according to a statement by the general prosecutor,
and a third was said to have been killed in a fall from atop the
Dynamo football stadium.
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. There was no immediate figure for
Azarov said earlier on Wednesday that police deployed on the streets
did not possess firearms and the interior ministry has denied that
police have used guns during the crisis.
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.
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In the worst violence that anyone can remember in Kiev, a 200-meter
stretch of the city center close to government buildings and the
parliament has been turned into a battle zone as hard-core
protesters, ignoring opposition leaders' pleas only for peaceful
demonstration, have bombarded police with petrol bombs and
Riot police have replied with rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear
gas. A group of priests held the two sides apart on Tuesday but the
crowds were back on Wednesday after the deaths were reported.
Yanukovich has suggested he is ready for peace talks with the
opposition but these have yet to materialize and opposition leader,
boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko, returned to the barricades
on Tuesday after Yanukovich refused to see him.
In a Unification Day message, Yanukovich expressed the conviction
that 2014 would be a year of "mutual understanding and frank
discussion about our common future".
As snow fell on Wednesday, hundreds of protesters glared at police
lines across a 40-metre 'no-man's land, beating on drum barrels with
sticks to mimic similar action by police on their riot shields.
Riot police, known as Berkut, staged a baton-charge to push back
protesters and seized canisters of harmful chemicals they said the
demonstrators had been readying to use against them.
After the Berkut withdrew, protesters returned to the spot.
Earlier on Wednesday, police, using teargas, tried to dismantle a
protest camp but were repelled by demonstrators hurling home-made
petrol bombs, witnesses said.
(Writing by Richard Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones)
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