Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ukraine Government Snipers shooting protesters: 100 now dead

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    1. CNN ‎- 3 minutes ago
      A Ukrainian protest official says at least 100 people have died in violent ... Pitched battles broke out in downtown Kiev, with protesters tossing ...

      In Ukraine, tense standoff after day marked by deaths, sniper fire

      By Phil Black, Nick Paton Walsh and Michael Pearson CNN
      updated 4:46 PM EST, Thu February 20, 2014
      Watch this video

      Protesters: 100 dead in Ukraine

      • NEW: 3 police killed; ministry says police fired guns to defend unarmed colleagues
      • NEW: Ukraine's parliament passes resolution denouncing authorities' use of force
      • NEW: International officials say early elections, constitutional reforms may be in works
      • Opposition says 100 killed in Kiev, the worst violence since the unrest began 3 months ago
      Are you in Ukraine? Send us your photos and experiences but please stay safe.
      Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) -- Protesters and government forces maintained a tense standoff in Ukraine's capital Thursday night, hours after another round of fierce and deadly clashes further destabilized the already sharply divided Eastern European nation.
      Claims of sniper fire by security forces and the kidnapping of police by demonstrators threatened to derail another round of talks aimed at calming the violence and paving the way for peaceful, long-term political solutions.
      Such attempts have been tried in the three months since protesters began occupying Kiev's Maidan, or Independence Square. But they have gone nowhere, including two truces that ended suddenly, and bloodily, in the past week.
      The latest bloodshed happened early Thursday, a mere hours after Ukraine's president and the leaders of three opposition parties agreed to a truce and talks.
      Pitched battles broke out in downtown Kiev, with protesters tossing rocks and firebombs at police under a sky blackened by smoke from their burning barricades. At least one protester fired toward police lines with a shotgun.
      Security forces appeared to fight back with automatic weapons and at least one sniper rifle.
      In video shot by Radio Free Europe, men wearing what appear to be government uniforms fired at unseen targets with automatic rifles and a sniper rifle with a telescopic sight. CNN could not immediately confirm their target.
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      In another video shot by CNN, a medic trying to help a man on the ground is felled by gunfire.
      In all, more than 100 people died in the fighting Thursday, protest medical officials said. Three police officers were killed as well, the Interior Ministry said.
      Even if the final toll isn't know, it clearly makes for the deadliest day in this unrest -- well above the previous mark of at least 26 killed on Tuesday.
      "I'm cleaning blood from the floor and I'm crying because this is really hard for me," said a man named Anton, who was volunteering at a protest medical clinic set up in a hotel.
      In a statement that appeared to increase pressure on protesters, the Interior Ministry said it reserved the right to use force to free about 70 police officers it said had been taken hostage Thursday by protesters.
      However, a number of people purporting to be police officers appeared on Ukrainian television saying they had joined protesters of their own free will. It wasn't clear whether those claiming to be police officers were among those allegedly taken hostage.
      The European Union said it would freeze the assets of Ukrainians deemed responsible for the violence, with the United States adding that it was rushing to impose sanctions of its own.
      "There is widespread horror in the European Union as well as in the United Kingdom at the scale of the loss of innocent life and the events of the last 48 hours," British Foreign Minister William Hague said.
      Meanwhile, Russia said it would send a mediator to try to ease the crisis, even as its United Nations ambassador accused protesters of trying to overthrow Ukraine's President and other officials accused the West of meddling in its neighbor's sovereign affairs.
      Renewed violence
      Thursday's violence broke out just hours after the government announced a truce in the fighting, which at that time had drawn international reproach following Tuesday's clashes between government forces and protesters.
      CNN crews at the scene reported that as security forces were moving away from the area, a group of protesters pursued them throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.
      Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko said the violence had been "provoked exclusively by the opposition leaders," echoing an earlier statement from President Viktor Yanukovych's office accusing protesters of breaking the truce.
      "The opposition used the negotiation period to buy time, to mobilize and get weapons to protesters," the statement from the President's office said.
      However, a doctor volunteering to treat protesters, Olga Bogomolets, accused government forces of shooting to kill, saying she had treated 13 people she believed had been targeted by "professional snipers."
      "They were shot directly to their hearts, their brain and to their neck," she said. "They didn't give any chance to doctors, for us, to save lives."
      CNN could not independently confirm Bogomolets' claim of sniper fire.
      At the hotel that had been converted into a triage center, bodies covered in bloodied sheets lay on the floor. Orthodox priests prayed over them.
      The Interior Ministry admitted Thursday that its forces used firearms, explaining that it only did so to protect unarmed police who were in danger.
      Ukraine's parliament later passed a resolution that security forces should stop using guns (something that's already illegal for protesters), back off from their positions around Maidan and denounce the "anti-terror" operation that had been announced earlier.
      But whether this Thursday night resolution -- which doesn't need the president's signature -- has an impact remained to be seen.
      In one way, at least, Kiev got back to a semblance of normality Thursday. In addition to announcing his resignation from Ukraine's ruling party, the city's mayor Volodymyr Makeenko reopened the city's mass transit system -- which government officials had shut down to prevent protesters from reaching Independence Square.
      Roots of the crisis
      The violence inflames a crisis that started in November, when Yanukovych reversed a decision to sign a trade deal with the European Union and instead turned toward Russia. Ukraine's population has long been divided between historic loyalties to Europe and its eastern neighbor.
      The political strife has since ballooned well beyond that one issue, however, including the opposition's pressing constitutional reforms and to shift powers away from the president and to parliament.
      And the bloodshed this get week has gotten the world's attention.
      British Prime Minister David Cameron, for instance, talked by phone Thursday with his Polish counterpart as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama also discussed the Ukraine.
      Russia, for one, has said it will send a mediator there at Yanukovych's request to negotiate with the opposition.
      But the Russian ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, said his government doesn't believe the opposition wants a dialogue. He accused protest leaders of invading government facilities as a buildup to a takeover of parliament.
      New round of violence erupts in Kiev
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      "We think that this attempt to execute a violent coup should stop," he said.
      Contrast that opinion to those expressed by Western officials, who have generally put more of the blame, and the responsibility, on the Ukrainian government.
      U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt told CNN on Thursday that "extremes on both sides are gathering strength" because of the instability. Even then, Pyatt said, "It's very clear that, for the United States, the preponderance of the responsibility rests with the President Yanukovych."
      "Our position is (that) President Yanukovych needs to lead his country into a new future, and he needs to do so through the vehicle of a new government, change to the constitution and the political order."
      Diplomatic efforts under way
      After meeting in urgent session in Brussels, European Union officials agreed to freeze the assets of Ukrainians deemed responsible for the violence, and to prevent them from traveling into the European Union, the organization said in a statement.
      The United States was also preparing an order to freeze assets of Ukrainians who are believed to be involved in the crackdown, a senior administration official said Thursday.
      It's likely President Barack Obama will sign the order later in the day, but his administration is closely watching diplomatic efforts on the ground to make sure such a move won't be counterproductive, the administration official said.
      The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland met Thursday in Kiev with opposition leaders and Yanukovych. They had planned to attend the Brussels meeting, but talks went longer than expected, a German foreign ministry spokeswoman told CNN.
      Late Thursday, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said via Twitter that the hourslong talks involving all sides had led to some "progress ... but important differences remain."
      This comment came as Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said there is a proposal before Yanukovych for elections this year, the formation of a new government within 10 days of that election and revisions to the constitution by this summer, according to a statement from Tusk's office.
      Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador, also said it was his understanding that Yanukovych had opened up to the idea of early elections.
      Russia's foreign ministry appeared to criticize Western diplomatic efforts, according to a report by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
      "The ongoing attempts to obtrusively intervene from outside, threat with sanctions or trying to influence the situation in any other ways are inappropriate and can't lead to anything good but can only aggravate the confrontation," the report quoted spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich.
      Analysts warned there was little that outside pressure could do, especially if the Ukrainian military gets involved on the side of the government cracking down on protesters.
      "My own hunch," said Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, "is this is going to continue to escalate."

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      In Ukraine, tense standoff after day marked by deaths, sniper fire


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