EU seeks peace as Ukraine death toll hits 75

KIEV Thu Feb 20, 2014 6:25pm EST

1 of 8. A general view shows anti-government protesters gathering around tents and barricades near Independence Square in central Kiev February 20, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko

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KIEV (Reuters) - European Union ministers sought to broker a political settlement in Ukraine after gun battles between police and anti-government protesters brought the death toll to 75 in two days of the worst violence in the country since Soviet times.

Three hours of fierce fighting in Kiev's Independence Square, which was recaptured by the protesters, left the bodies of over 20 civilians strewn on the ground, a short distance from where President Viktor Yanukovich was meeting the EU delegation.

The ministers, from Germany, France and Poland, embarked on "a night of difficult negotiations" with Yanukovich and the opposition, said EU officials who hoped a plan for an interim government and early elections could bring peace.

France's foreign minister said there was still no agreement over a proposed road map to ease the crisis, which erupted in November after Yanukovich abandoned a proposed trade deal with the European Union and turned instead towards Moscow.

"There is no agreement for now, the negotiations are very difficult and we are working to reach a peaceful solution," France's Laurent Fabius told reporters.

The three ministers, who extended their stay in Kiev until Friday, have been negotiating with the government and opposition since Thursday morning.

"We have to find every way to see how we can put a new government in place, think about elections and see how we can end the violence, but at this moment there is no solution," Fabius said.

PETROL BOMBS

Earlier in the day, riot police were captured on video shooting from a rooftop at demonstrators in the central plaza, known as the Maidan. Protesters hurled petrol bombs and paving stones to drive the security forces off a corner of the square the police had captured in battles that began two days earlier.

The health ministry said 75 people had been killed since Tuesday afternoon, which meant at least 47 died in Thursday's clashes. That was by far the worst violence since Ukraine emerged from the crumbling Soviet Union 22 years ago.

The trio of visiting foreign ministers met Yanukovich and the opposition after EU colleagues in Brussels imposed targeted sanctions on Ukraine and threatened more if the authorities failed to restore calm.

Vitaly Klitschko, an opposition leader, said he hoped for a deal overnight but added there was no clear result so far.

In further diplomatic efforts, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel who in turn discussed Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin "stressed the critical importance of an immediate end to bloodshed, the need to take urgent measures to stabilise the situation and suppress extremist and terrorist attacks" the Kremlin said - sharing Yanukovich's view that he faces a coup.

The White House said Obama and Merkel agreed it was "critical" U.S. and EU leaders "stay in close touch in the days ahead on steps we can take to support an end to the violence and a political solution that is in the best interests of the Ukrainian people". Earlier this month, bugged and leaked diplomatic phone calls exposed EU-U.S. disagreement on Ukraine.

The EU plan "offers a chance to bring an end to violence," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in Warsaw, adding that Yanukovich was willing to hold rapid elections to parliament and the presidency - the latter something Yanukovich has so far appeared reluctant to consider, a year before his term ends.

FALLEN COMRADES

In Kiev, demonstrators on Independence Square held a vigil after dark for fallen comrades, lit by mobile phone screens held aloft.

Medics carried bodies on stretchers through lines of protesters who chanted "Heroes, heroes" to the dead.

Though armed militants on the barricades tend to be from the far-right fringe, the opposition has broad support. But many Ukrainians also fear violence slipping out of control:

"This is brother fighting brother," said Iryna, a local woman walking to Independence Square to donate syringes for blood transfusions. "We need to realize we're all one people."

Kiev residents emptied bank machines of cash and stockpiled groceries, with many staying off the streets.

In a sign of faltering support for Yanukovich, his hand-picked head of Kiev's city administration quit the ruling party in protest at bloodshed.

In an indication that Yanukovich is losing support in parliament, the assembly late on Thursday adopted a resolution urging authorities to stop shooting, withdraw police from the center of Kiev and end the action against the protesters.

But core loyalists were still talking tough.

Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, wearing camouflage as he made a televised statement, said police had been issued with combat weapons and would use them "in accordance with the law" to defend themselves - or to free 67 of their colleagues his ministry said were being held captive.

Demonstrators said captured police had been allowed to go.

(Additional reporting by Natalya Zinets, Pavel Polityuk, Vasily Fedosenko and Sabine Siebold in Kiev, John Irish in Paris and Francesco Guarascio and Adrian Croft in Brussels; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Comments (88)
bill1212 wrote:
News flash, the president of Ukraine is the problem! Let the president roam as he pleases but restrict Ukrainian citizens from traveling and ban VISAs? Who is supposed to hurt other than the citizens of Ukraine? It’s strange that obama gives weapons and tons of money to every muslim country in the world but this is the best he can do for the people of Ukraine!

Feb 19, 2014 8:17pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Yamayoko wrote:
Any sanctions imposed on Ukraine will make this country ever more dependent on Russia for survival. Kerry’s suggestion is not a wise move. Sanctions on Russia work better, but coward Obama got no guts.
Never trust US mouthpiece, Ukrainians need self-rescue.

Feb 19, 2014 8:43pm EST  --  Report as abuse
AlexZ83 wrote:
This is the right time for cooling down and relaxing the tensions. Ukraine is a country of 46 million people and an escalation of this kind will have many dire consequences that will surely not remain localized to the region. It appears that once again the west is rushing head first into a crisis they cannot possibly control and western leaders appear not to hqve a plan. Eastern Ukraine is home to 40% of the former Soviet union’s military and aerospace industrial complex. The factories there to this day still make components for the Russian airplanes, missiles and spacecraft. It is foolish to think Russia will allow this industry to fall in western hands without a challenge. The right wing radicals in Ukraine are hell bent on escalating the situation in a hope they will provoke the west into a hasty move, and the west appears to be swallowing the bait. Make no mistake, the images of men armed with rifles and pistols on the Kiev barricades were seen by the whole world by now. These people are not “peaceful demonstrators”. If Ukraine is pushed down the path of civil war, you can be sure as hell, Russia will intervene. What will be the western response in that case? Will NATO choose to jump in from the west? Is anyone even prepared to contemplate such a chain of events? Does anyone really think partitioning Ukraine along some ancient pre-WWI (that’s right, pre-1914) lines is a viable possibility? What will the western part be called? How long will it take for the world to recognise this new state? How about a seat in the UN? Someone in the west needs to wake up and smell the coffee. The situation is dangerously heading towards an all-out confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers and in the name of what or better yet who? A bunch of neo-nazi punks who still think the WWII is on? Please, tell me you have a better answer than that!

Feb 19, 2014 10:26pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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