KIEV, Ukraine – Two days of continuing protests near the Ukrainian capital turned deadly Wednesday when police opened fire at demonstrators killing three of them, officials and eyewitnesses said.
Eyewitnesses said that protesters, campaigning against new laws limiting the right to protest, were fired near barricades that they had set up. A medical professional requesting not to be named said that three people were killed.
The BBC said Wednesday’s violence began in a small area around Hrushevskyy Street, a road leading to government buildings and also close to the main protest encampment at Maidan (or Independence Square).
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said it was investigating the deaths, the circumstances of which it described as unclear.
Local media reports suggest at least one of the dead may have fallen from a statue or monument.
Ukrainian police confirmed the deaths, but didn’t release the names of the dead.
Demonstrators have been marching on the snowy streets since the weekend in protest against the laws that came into effect Wednesday. The clashes began after security forces begun dismantling barricades at the protest camp in downtown Kiev where demonstrators and police have been in face off for two days.
Televised images Wednesday showed ongoing clashes between police and protesters who’ve massed around barricades on Hrushevskoho Street, near the burned-out shells of police buses.
Ukraine has for the past two months been witnessing unrest that was sparked off after President Viktor Yanukovych spurned a planned trade pact with the European Union in favour of close ties with Russia.
Prospects for an agreement to end the conflict dimmed on Tuesday, when Yanukovych refused to personally meet with leading members of the opposition who were invited for talks.
The two-month standoff has attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters to rallies in central Kiev.
The US ambassador to Ukraine, Michael McFaul, tweeted Wednesday that he was “watching with sadness” the events in Kiev.
The embassy in Kiev said in a statement that it has “revoked the visas of several Ukrainians who were linked to the violence” in response to actions taken against protesters in November and December.
“Because visa records are confidential under U.S. law the Embassy will not comment on individual cases,” it said. “We are considering further action against those responsible for the current violence.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay Tuesday described the violent clashes in Kiev as “very worrying” and said there was an urgent need for dialogue to avoid an escalation of violence.
Pillay also called on the government to suspend implementation of the new protest laws so they can be reviewed.
“I am particularly concerned by the potential that these laws have to curtail the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, the right to information, the right of civil society to work freely,” she said.
Russia also warned that the situation was “getting out of control” and urged dialogue between all the parties.