Ukraine: President, Opposition Leaders Meet After Protest Deaths
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders finally met Wednesday after news surfaced that three protestors have died in clashes in Kiev.
Of the three dead, two were shot, Ukraine's general prosecutor said, and the third died after plunging from the top of Dynamo football stadium during a brawl with police.
The talks lasted about three hours, but ended without a definitive result. Opposition leaders reportedly stated that they would announce the results to the tens of thousands of protestors gathered in Kiev's central Independence Square.
Al Jazeera notes that not all is calm, however: opposition leader Vitali Klitschko has threatened that the angry mob will "go on the attack" Thursday if concessions are not made within the next 24 hours.
Before going into the talks with opposition leaders, Yanukovich issued a statement deploring the loss of life.
"I am against bloodshed, against the use of force, against inciting enmity and violence," he stated, urging the people not to be swayed by "political radicals."
Yanukovich has stood firm against opposition demands for the dismissal of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov's government and the prosecution of the Interior Minister - both of whom protestors hold responsible for the brutal response by the police.
Azarov, however, insisted that the brutality of the protests stems from the protestors themselves.
"Terrorists from the 'Maidan' (Independence Square) seized dozens of people and beat them," the Prime Minister declared Wednesday. "I am officially stating that these are criminals who must answer for their actions."
This round of violence erupted again in the urban center earlier this week, after Ukrainian police forces turned away a mass demonstration marching to Parliament. The protest, which was against new anti-protest laws severely curbing the freedom of expression, turned brutal - with witnesses describing horrific police brutality.
About 100 people had been injured in the lawlessness, but the 3 deaths are the first since clashes began in early December.
The deaths also evoked reactions from the US and the European Union (EU). The US Embassy in Kiev reacted Wednesday by revoking the visas of several Ukrainians linked to police violence there, according to Reuters.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the United States strongly condemned the violence in general and "the targeted attacks against journalists and peaceful protesters" in particular. "We urge all sides to immediately deescalate the situation and refrain from violence," Harf stated.
The EU expressed concern about the violence as well.
"I strongly condemn the violent escalation of events in Kiev overnight leading to casualties. The reported deaths of several protesters are a source of extreme worry," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton stated.
EU representatives stated that they are also considering taking further action over the deaths, but did not state whether or not it would revoke its offer of EU candidacy to the former Soviet state.