At least 22 people have been killed and more than 200 injured in the bloodiest day of the Ukrainian revolt as riot police continue to fight protestors occupying the central square in Kiev.
Pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovich appealed to the opposition forces in a television message late on Tuesday night to back away from the radical rebels’ revolt, or else face the consequences.
New reports suggested police were gaining ground in Independence Square, centre of three months of protests, but demonstrators dug into their defences and sought protection behind a burning barricade of tires and wood.
Police have gained control of almost half the ‘Maidan’ square and several floors of a trade union building, used as an anti-government headquarters, were on fire as dawn was breaking.
At least 14 protesters, seven policemen and one journalist were killed in the worst violence that erupted on Tuesday and continued into the early hours of Wednesday. Many were killed by gunshot and hundreds of people were injured, with dozens in serious condition, police and opposition representatives said. The Ministry of Health confirmed the death of 22 people and 241 wounded.
The daily Vesti newspaper said its Vyacheslav Veremiy was shot dead in the chest by masked people, allegedly by the so-called “titushki”, pro-government thugs.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged Yanukovich to pull back government forces and exercise maximum restraint, the White House said.
Opposition leaders Vitaly Klitschko and Arseny Yatsenyuk, who had visited Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, said that they had quit talks with Yanukovich without reaching any agreement on how to end the violence.
The unrest has spread to at least three cities in the western part of the country. Police said protesters had seized regional administration headquarters in the cities of Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv, where an army barracks was raisded and weapons taken away, while media said protesters torched the main police station in the city of Ternopil.
The authorities have restricted traffic coming into the capital to prevent protesters from getting reinforcements. Kyiv authorities also closed down the underground.
Protests erupted across the country in November after Yanukovich bowed to Russian pressure and pulled out of a planned trade pact with the European Union, deciding instead to accept a Kremlin bailout for the heavily indebted economy.
Western powers warned Yanukovich against trying to smash the pro-European demonstrations, urging him to turn back to the EU and the prospect of an IMF-supported economic recovery, while Russia accused them of meddling.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle said he had spoken to Ukraine's acting prime minister, who had given assurances that the authorities would try to avoid using live firearms.
"For the sake of the Ukrainians and for the sake of the future of that country, I will pray that he is right," Füle told a public event in Brussels.
As protesters and police battled, Russia called the escalation a "direct result of connivance by Western politicians and European structures that have shut their eyes ... to the aggressive actions of radical forces".
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for restraint, said his spokesman, Martin Nesirky, adding: "He is extremely concerned over today's reports of renewed violence and fatalities."
According to the news website Zerkalo nedeli, Angela Merkel made several unsuccessful attempts to speak to Yanukovich, who didn’t take her calls.
Guy Verhofstadt, ALDE leader called on EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton to take urgent action.
He said, "The High Representative should urgently convene the EU Foreign Ministers to an extra-ordinary meeting of the Council on the escalating crisis in Ukraine. Today's violent and bloody clashes between the protesters and the police are a clear indication that the EU response so far has been inadequate.”
The Chairman of the EPP Group Joseph Daul published a statement called “Do not kill your own Ukrainian people”.
“I am appalled by the horrific images that are coming from Kiev. Mr President, this must stop now! I am making a human appeal to you to order for the security forces to stop the violence and withdraw. Democracy means dialogue and I hope it is not too late. Ukraine needs a peaceful and political solution to the current crisis. I call on you to take the necessary steps to make that happen,” said Daul.
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