At least two shot dead as police storm Ukraine protesters

At least two shot dead as police storm Ukraine protesters

KIEV - Agence France-Presse
At least two shot dead as police storm Ukraine protesters

Protesters stand on the barricade during clashes with police in central Kiev, Ukraine, Jan 22. AP photo

Two activists were shot dead Jan. 22 during a police crackdown in Kiev, the first fatalities since the start of Ukraine's two-month-long protests.

The bloody clashes marked a new peak in tensions after two months of protests over the government's failure to sign a deal for closer integration with the European Union under Russian pressure.

The clashes came after police launched a fresh assault on protesters in central Kiev, driving into their lines using tear gas and stun grenades.

The protesters fought back in intense clashes, with casualties seen being loaded into ambulances.

Police for the first time started moving an armoured personnel carrier towards the protesters after storming the barricades.

General prosecutors confirmed earlier information from the protest movement that two activists had been shot dead, one of them with wounds to head and chest.

Protesters claimed they were shot by police snipers. Prosecutors said the case was being investigated.

The medical centre of the protest movement said a third activist was killed after falling from the top of the ceremonial entrance to Dynamo Kiev stadium adjacent to the protests.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Jan. 22 met with opposition leaders, including former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, but it was unclear if the talks would have any result.

The opposition leaders appeared unable to have any influence on the hard core of radical protesters and stopped short of supporting their actions. Yanukovych earlier urged protesters not to follow "political radicals" and expressed condolences to the families of those killed in the clashes.

"Once again I ask people not to succumb to calls from political radicals," Yanukovych said. "I am against bloodletting, against the use of force, against inciting enmity and violence." Showing no mood for compromise, Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov labelled the radical protesters behind the clashes as "terrorists".

The deadly violence horrified Ukrainians, who have never witnessed such scenes in their country including during the 2004 Orange Revolution which was almost entirely peaceful.

EU urges 'end of violence'

Amid growing international concern, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Jan. 22 urged "an immediate end" to the escalating violence.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso warned the authorities that the EU executive would assess "possible actions" against the Ukrainian authorities.

The United States also revoked the visas of several Ukrainian nationals linked to violence against protesters in November and December last year, the U.S. embassy said in a statement.

There was so far no move by the police against the main protest camp on Independence Square, several hundred metres away from the scene of the clashes.

With Ukraine supposedly celebrating its annual day of unity, Yanukovych prayed for the country at a ceremony to mark the occasion, the presidency said.

The government is basing its actions on a new set of laws, which ban nearly all forms of protest in the ex-Soviet country and have enraged demonstrators.

They allow for jail terms of up to five years for those who blockade public buildings and the arrest of protesters wearing masks or helmets. Meanwhile a prominent Ukrainian activist and journalist, Igor Lutsenko, on Jan. 21 said he was safe and well after being abducted from a hospital by unknown individuals and dumped in a forest outside Kiev.

He wrote on his Facebook page after being released that he had indeed been taken from a hospital in Kiev and was eventually left in a forest by his abductors after an ordeal lasting almost a day.

Protesters at the scene of the clashes also said that they had received mysterious text messages warning them that "dear subscriber, you have been registered as a participant in mass disorders."