Following a three-day stand-off between a massive crowd of protesters and riot police in central Kiev, Ukrainian police moved in on the crowds Tuesday night into Wednesday, causing violent clashes and the deaths of at least two demonstrators.
The police used heavy handed tactics such as smoke, tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and water cannons. A ban on using water cannons in sub-zero temperatures was lifted for the confrontation.
At least two of the deceased protesters died of gun wounds, although there has not yet been confirmation as to who fired the shots.
The Washington Post reports:
Anti-government street protests here turned deadly overnight, as opposition organizers announced that two demonstrators had been fatally shot by police.
Formations of riot police, holding their shields overhead in a way that made their lines resemble huge, scaly, metal snakes, twice broke through barriers Wednesday morning and swept away the protesters who had been confronting them with stones and molotov cocktails on Hrushevsky Street.
The anti-government protesters fought back with stones and small petrol bombs and set fire to a large pile of tires in the center of European Square.
While demonstrators gathered Wednesay for a 6 p.m. (EET) rally at Independence Square, the government passed security measures for the police, allowing for water cannon use and limiting public mobility, including traffic.
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Meanwhile, a message was sent out by the government via a mass cell phone text to all mobile phone users who were in the vicinity of the protests Tuesday, reading "Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass riot."
Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leaders held the “first stage” of negotiations between protesters and riot police Wednesday, while clashing continued outside. The meeting lasted for more than three hours, but the outcome remained unclear.
Wednesday's clashes are only the latest in months of protest in the country where many residents were originally angered at the Yanukovich administration for turning down a free trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer economic ties with Russia, causing over a million people to march in the streets while many set up a permanent encampment on Independence Square.
The conflict worsened after Yanukovich passed a law against large public demonstrations last week, causing mass public anger.
Watch live footage from Ustream: