Violent clashes between police and protesters continued in Kiev on Thursday despite calls for a truce, leaving at least 22 dead and scores wounded. At least 45 people have been killed in the past two days, according to an AP tally, and protest leaders pegged the number of dead on Thursday alone at more than 70, though that claim couldn’t be independently verified.
A reporter for the Associated Press counted 22 bodies in the sprawling protest encampment in central Kiev on Thursday, and Reuters reports that one of its photographers counted 21 bodies in civilian clothes. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry told the AP that one policeman was killed and 28 suffered gunshot wounds during the fighting. The Interior Ministry also said dozens of police officers had been captured by protesters.
There were unconfirmed reports of protesters being targeted by sniper fire, and the United States stepped up its pressure on President Viktor Yanukovych.
“We are outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “We urge President Yanukovych to immediately withdraw his security forces from downtown [Kiev] and to respect the right of peaceful protest, and we urge protesters to express themselves peacefully. We urge the Ukrainian military not to get involved in a conflict that can and should be resolved by political means. The use of force will not resolve the crisis—clear steps must be taken to stop the violence and initiate meaningful dialogue that reduces tension and addresses the grievances of the Ukrainian people. The United States will work with our European allies to hold those responsible for violence accountable and to help the Ukrainian people get a unified and independent Ukraine back on the path to a better future.”
Protesters in the Ukrainian capital are calling on President Viktor Yanukovych to enact constitutional reforms to limit the president’s power. Months of unrest over the government’s decision to buck a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties to Russia exploded into violence this week. A former Soviet republic of 46 million people, Ukraine straddles the fault line between Europe and Russia, and the country is seen as a key to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dream of a Eurasian Union centered in Moscow.
After Yanukovych rejected the E.U. agreement, protesters took to the streets of Kiev, occupying government buildings and clashing with police in January. Protesters now occupy much of Kiev’s Independence Square and formed a defensive perimeter with tires set on fire to hold back advances by police. Protesters turned the lobby of a hotel overlooking Independence Square into a makeshift morgue as the proposed truce collapsed on Thursday.
As the violence continues in Kiev, American and European diplomats are eyeing sanctions against the government. President Barack Obama said Wednesday that ”there will be consequences” if blood keeps spilling. Foreign ministers from Germany, France and Poland are expected to propose sanctions, a move that the U.S. could join. Russian’s foreign ministry has blamed the West, describing the violence as an attempted coup.
Opposition leaders have called for Yanukovych’s resignation and early elections.