Reports from Ukraine say shots have been fired near Kyiv’s Independence Square, after the government announced a preliminary deal with the opposition movement aimed at ending the nation’s political crisis.
The Ukrainian government has blamed the gunshots that rang out early Friday on protesters battling police, but that report has not been confirmed.
Earlier, a statement on president Viktor Yanukovych’s web site Friday announced that a deal will be signed later in the day. The opposition movement has not confirmed the agreement.
Talks between government and opposition representatives were brokered by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland. The president’s web site said Russia was also involved in the talks.
On Thursday, battles erupted in Kyiv between riot police and anti-government protesters despite a truce implemented a day earlier. Local officials said 39 people were killed, bringing the three-day toll to at least 69 fatalities.
However, medical officials working with protesters said 70 to 100 people died on Thursday alone, some by government sniper fire. Hundreds of others were reported wounded.
Elsewhere, television footage from the western city of Lviv showed scenes of chaos, as anti-government protesters firebombed government buildings and some police declined to intervene.
The White House said Thursday it was “outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people.” The U.S. statement called on President Viktor Yanukovych “to immediately withdraw his security forces from downtown Kyiv and to respect the right of peaceful protest.” It also urged protesters to “express themselves peacefully” and pressed the Ukrainian military “not to get involved in a conflict that can and should be resolved by political means.”
In Brussels, European Union foreign ministers agreed in an emergency session held Thursday to impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials deemed responsible for orchestrating the violence in the capital. The measures would include visa bans, asset freezes and restrictions on the export of anti-riot gear to the Ukrainian government. Washington imposed similar sanctions Wednesday.
Yanukovych and the leaders of anti-government protests had agreed on a truce Wednesday. They said the truce was aimed at “ending the bloodshed and stabilizing the situation … in the interests of social peace.” The truce dissolved within hours.
Anti-government protests erupted in November, after Yanukovych backed away from a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
(Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich. Photo: Igor Kruglenko)