Despite a truce called by Ukraine's protest leaders and the president they aim to oust, street fighting between protesters and police in the centre of Kyiv continued Thursday morning.
During the fierce clashes between police and protesters in Ukraine's capital, an Associated Press reporter has seen 10 bodies laid out on the edge of the protest encampment.
As the violence explodes and heavy smoke from burning barricades at the encampment belches into the sky, the foreign ministers of three European countries are meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych, according to a presidential aide. Earlier Thursday, a French Embassy spokeswoman said the meeting was cancelled for security reasons, but a top Yanukovych aide later said the meeting was underway.
The two sides are locked in a battle over the identity of this nation of 46 million, whose loyalties are divided between Russia and the West, and parts of the country are in open revolt against the central government.
The latest bout of street violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would limit the president's power _ a key opposition demand. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.
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In a statement published early Thursday, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people have died and 287 have been hospitalized during the two days of street violence. Protesters, who have set up a medical care facility in a downtown cathedral, say the numbers are significantly higher.
Ukrainian police said Thursday that more than 20 officers have been wounded by gunfire in the capital. A statement from the Interior Ministry on Thursday said the gunfire appeared to be coming from the national music conservatory, which is on the edge of the downtown square housing an extensive protest tent camp. It did not say when the officers were wounded, but added that they were receiving treatment on Thursday.
Also Thursday, the parliament building was evacuated because of fears protesters were preparing to storm it, said parliament spokeswoman Irina Karnelyuk.
The renewed clashes despite the declaration of truce follow days of violence, the most deadly since protests kicked off three months ago after Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia. After Yanukovych shelved the agreement with the EU, Russia announced a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine, whose economy is in tatters.
The ongoing violence on the square Thursday indicates that more radical elements among the protesters may be unwilling to observe the truce and may not be mollified by the prospects of negotiations. Although the initial weeks of protests were determinedly peaceful, radicals helped drive an outburst of clashes with police in January in which at least three people died, and the day of violence on Tuesday may have radicalized many more.