Ukraine detains 12 riot police on suspicion of 'mass murder'

KIEV Thu Apr 3, 2014 3:08am EDT

The Ukranian riot police unit ''Berkut'' stand by during rallies by anti and pro-Yanukovich supporters in the eastern city of Donetsk, February 23, 2014. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

The Ukranian riot police unit ''Berkut'' stand by during rallies by anti and pro-Yanukovich supporters in the eastern city of Donetsk, February 23, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko

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KIEV (Reuters) - Twelve members of Ukraine's disbanded 'Berkut' riot police have been detained on suspicion of shooting peaceful participants in Kiev's months-long anti-government protests, a spokesman for the General Prosecutor said on Thursday.

More than 100 people were killed, most by police snipers, on the streets of the capital in the run-up to the ouster of Viktor Yanukovich on February 21 and the 'Berkut' force have largely been considered responsible.

"By this morning twelve people had been detained, all of them suspected of mass murder on Institutska Street," a spokesman for the general prosecutor told Reuters.

Institutska, which leads off from Kiev's Independence Square or 'Maidan', saw the worst violence in Ukraine's 22 years of independence and has since been informally renamed as the Avenue of Heaven's Hundred, a reference to those killed.

In the final violent days of the protests dozens of people were picked off by police snipers and general police shooting.

Ukraine's acting Attorney General Oleh Makhnitsky said the detainees were members of a specialized force within the Berkut called the 'Black Unit'.

"The police officers of this company were trained for special operations including the killing of people. They were overseen by the presidential administration," Interfax Ukraine newswire quoted Makhnitsky as saying.

In late February the Interior Ministry disbanded the Berkut, whose name means golden eagle and signifies a predator capable of swooping quickly onto its prey.

Later on Thursday a special commission is due to hear the results of a preliminary investigation into the deaths at the 'Maidan' protests.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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