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Medic: At least 70 protesters killed in Kiev
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Fearing that a call for a truce was a ruse, protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine’s embattled capital. Government snipers shot back and the almost-medieval melee that ensued left at least 70 people dead and hundreds injured, according to a protest doctor.
Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes Thursday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Trying to protect themselves with shields, teams of protesters carried bodies away on sheets of plastic or on planks of wood.
Protesters were also seen leading policemen with their hands held high around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev. Ukraine’s Interior ministry says 67 police were captured in all. It was not clear how they were taken. An opposition lawmaker said they were being held in Kiev’s occupied city hall.
President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition protesters who demand his resignation are locked in an epic battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country — mostly in its western cities — are in open revolt against Yanukovych’s central government, while many in eastern Ukraine favor strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.
At least 99 people have died this week in the clashes in Kiev, a sharp reversal in three months of mostly peaceful protests. Now neither side appears willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych’s resignation and an early election and the president apparently prepared to fight until the end.
Thursday was the deadliest day yet at the sprawling protest camp on Kiev’s Independence Square, also called the Maidan. An AP cameraman saw snipers shooting at protesters in Kiev and video footage showed at least one sniper wearing a Ukraine riot police uniform.
Dr. Oleh Musiy, the top medical coordinator for the protesters, told the AP that at least 70 protesters were killed Thursday and over 500 injured. He said the death toll from the day’s clashes could well rise further.
There was no way to immediately verify his statement. Earlier in the day, an Associated Press reporter saw 21 bodies of protesters laid out on the edge of the capital’s protest camp.
In addition, one policeman was killed Thursday and 28 suffered gunshot wounds, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov told the AP.
Saying the U.S. was outraged by the violence, President Barack Obama issued a statement urging Yanukovych to withdraw his forces from downtown Kiev immediately. The U.S. is considering the possibility of joining any EU sanctions against those responsible for the violence.
A truce announced late Wednesday appeared to have little credibility among hardcore protesters. One camp commander, Oleh Mykhnyuk, told the AP even after the alleged truce, protesters still threw firebombs at riot police on the square. As the sun rose, police pulled back, the protesters followed them and police then began shooting at them, he said.
The Interior Ministry warned Kiev residents to stay indoors Thursday because of the “armed and aggressive mood of the people.”
Yanukovych claimed Thursday that police were not armed and “all measures to stop bloodshed and confrontation are being taken.” But the Interior Ministry later contradicted that, saying law enforcers would get weapons as part of an “anti-terrorist” operation.
“We must be guided only by the interests of the people, this is our only chance to save people’s lives,” he said, adding he would continue to fulfill his duties as long as he had the people’s trust.
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