At Least 70 Killed In Kiev, With Casualties Still Mounting
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In Ukraine, protesters and police clash today in the worst violence yet during the three-month old uprising against President Viktor Yanukovych. A flurry of diplomatic visits to Kiev and the EU's threat of sanctions have failed to slow the carnage. At least 100 people are reported dead after two days of fighting. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kiev covering the crisis.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The bells at Sr. Michael's Monastery warned of the fighting in and around Independence Square.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS WAILING)
NELSON: Within minutes, ambulance sirens filled the air as the wounded and dying began pouring in to makeshift hospitals at the monastery and other buildings nearby.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Make way, make way, this protester shouts, as volunteers ferry the wounded in their cars or a makeshift stretcher pass pools of blood on the streets.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: These volunteers are trying to find drivers to move a dozen bodies being kept at one hotel to the morgue. Before nightfall, hundreds more protesters in motorcycle helmets and other protective gear poured into the square that has been the focal point for protests against President Viktor Yanukovych.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Many of them scoop up broken pavement bricks into sacks, then hand those off to friends who rush off to set up new barricades. They say if the attacks intensify, the sacks will be cut open so that protesters can use the stones inside to throw at police. Other protesters wielding bats, knives and axes make their way to the frontlines, preparing for what many here fear will be an even bloodier night.
Accounts vary on what sparked today's clashes, which began hours after the government announced a truce that was welcomed by opposition leaders.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: This woman, who was helping build barricades, says the police never stopped attacking even after the truce was announced. But a camp leader told the Associated Press that it was protesters who kept throwing firebombs because they feared the truce was a ruse. By midmorning, protesters had forced the police out of the square and reclaimed the October Palace, a concert hall security forces had captured on Tuesday. Ukrainian security forces struck back with government snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.
But dozens of policemen apparently surrendered to the opposition, asking for protection. NPR saw protesters surround eight of the young officers and escort them to safety. The government claimed protesters captured those policemen. Visits by the Polish, German and French foreign ministers sparked by the growing violence didn't impress protesters NPR interviewed.
One of them, Alex Stalov(ph), says he still wants Ukraine to join the European Union, but that he's frustrated by what he sees as harsh Western rhetoric without any meaningful follow up. He says he understands foreign reluctance to get involved in Ukrainian affairs, but that European countries shouldn't do business with corrupt Ukrainian officials either.
ALEX STALOV: Because to prove that this money are corrupted, it is quite easy for financial controllers...
NELSON: And they haven't done that.
STALOV: Yeah. They haven't done it.
NELSON: But EU officials say following a meeting of the group's 28 foreign ministers, targeted sanctions against certain Ukrainian leaders could happen as early as tomorrow. Even if they do, some protesters say it won't be enough until Yanukovych and his government resigns. And there are new signs that Yanukovych's grip on power is weakening.
The mayor of Kiev and nearly a dozen other officials belonging to the ruling Party of Regions announced they are quitting their party. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kiev. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.