KIEV, Ukraine – Thousands of protesters Wednesday refused to give up their ground and stayed put in the main square in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv after deadly clashes with police left at least 26 people dead, witnesses and police officials said.
Protesters defied police calls and warnings asking them to return from Kiev’s Maidan or Independence Square. Live video footage from the square showed people throwing projectiles and burning objects at security forces to keep them at bay.
The protests continued after deadly clashes left many of protesters dead and scores injured.
The Ukrainian Health Ministry said Wednesday that the death toll in Tuesday’s clashes mounted to 26.
Ukraine has been on the boil since November, when President Viktor Yanukovych reversed a decision to sign a trade deal with the European Union and instead decided to align with Russia.
The unrest aggravated after the government decided to impose an anti-protest law which was later revoked.
An opposition leader described the situation as precarious after the government declared a nationwide security operation to restore order and branded the protesters as terrorists.
President Yanukovych urged leaders of the opposition to distance themselves from “radicals”.
The president in a statement blamed opposition leaders for the latest upsurge of violence and said it was “not too late to end the conflict”.
As the unrest continues, world leaders threatened to impose sanctions against the Ukrainian government.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called the Political and Security Committee for an “extraordinary” meeting to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
Calling on the Ukrainian government to eradicate the key reasons of the crisis, Ashton said, “Political decisions should be taken within Parliament and Ukraine should return to the parliamentary process. Political leaders should share responsibility in order to restore confidence and create conditions for finding an effective solution to the crisis.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said “the violence on all sides is completely unacceptable and President Yanukovych has a particular responsibility to pull back government forces and de-escalate the situation”.
The European Union said it “will respond to any deterioration on the ground”.
Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the bloc expected “that targeted measures against those responsible for violence and use of excessive force can be agreed by our Member States as a matter of urgency, as proposed by the High Representative/Vice President.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his France, Germany and Poland counterparts will travel with him to Kiev “Thursday morning to collect the latest information on the Ukraine crisis before going to Brussels and presenting their findings to their European Union counterparts later that day”.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was “deeply disturbed” by the violence in Kiev.
“President Yanokovich has the opportunity to make a choice, a choice between protecting the people that he serves — all of the people — and the choice for compromise and dialogue versus violence and mayhem,” said Kerry on a visit to Paris.
“We believe the choice is clear and we are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps with our friends and Europe and elsewhere in order to create the environment for compromise.”
US Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday called Yanukovych to express his concerns, according to a White House statement.
Biden asked Yanukovych to pull back government forces and also urged him to talk immediately with opposition leaders to address protesters’ “legitimate grievances” and to put “forward serious proposals for political reform,” the White House said.