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Ukraine

Sniper fire, around 25 killed as violence flares again in Ukraine capital Kyiv

Fatal clashes have re-erupted in Kyiv, shattering a brief truce between opposition leaders and Ukraine's government. At least 25 people were killed, some allegedly by snipers, as demonstrators clashed with riot police.

More violence in Kyiv

Ukraine's brief truce collapsed on Thursday amid gunfire in central Kyiv, as three visiting EU foreign ministers held talks with President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders ahead of EU consultations in Brussels.

Witnesses said they saw snipers firing over a one-hour period before fighting subsided. Dozens of wounded protesters were treated in makeshift clinics, while numerous ambulances were sighted.

Kyiv's top city administrator Volodymyr Makeyenko quit Yanukovych's ruling Regions Party on Thursday, saying: "The events happening in the Ukrainian capital are a tragedy."

Protesters on Thursday hurled petrol bombs and paving stones to push back riot police who had previously taken part of Kyiv's Maidan plaza.

Local media said radical demonstrators approach government buildings before being urged by their leaders to return to barricades.

Week's death toll exceeds 50

Thursday's fatalities, combined with 28 deaths resulting from clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday, took the overall death toll beyond 50, including 12 police.

Ukraine's health ministry said two police officers were among Thursday's dead. Local media reported more than 30 protesters were killed in Thursday's flare-up that followed the aborted truce.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who visited with colleagues from Poland and France, said Ukraine's crisis could only be ended through a "political solution."

EU renews sanctions threat

In Brussels, EU Parliament President Martin Schulz said if the shooting failed to stop, sanctions would be imposed on Ukrainian government members, including the closure of bank accounts.

EU foreign ministers began emergency talks on Ukraine Thursday afternoon in Belgium. The ministers from France, Germany and Poland were not present, however, as they had stayed behind in Kiev to continue holding meetings with local authorities.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU was examining "all options" in the form of restrictive steps against those responsible for human rights violations.

"The violence must stop immediately," Ashton said.

The United States had stepped up pressure on Wednesday by imposing travel bans on 20 senior Ukrainian officials.

'Out of control'

In Kyiv, one of three key opposition leaders, Vitaly Klitscho, described Ukraine's crisis as "out of control." He called for an extraordinary session of Ukraine's parliament.

"In front of the whole world, the government had resorted to bloody provocation," he said.

During the clashes, the parliament in Kyiv had been evacuated amid reports that demonstrators were approaching the building.

In a statement, Yanukovych's chancellery accused "organized armed groups of using firearms." Ukraine's interior ministry urged Kyiv residents not to venture outdoors.

EU 'blackmail,' says Lavrov

In Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, whose government backs Yanukovych, said Ukraine must "protect its people, protect its security structures."

Visiting Iraq, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the call for fresh elections in Ukraine from the West, including the EU, amounted to blackmail. He also called on them to distance themselves from "extremists" in Kyiv, accusing them of trying to "provoke a civil war."

In December, Yanukovych secured a $15 billion ($11 billion euros) deal from Russia after rejecting a planned association pact with the EU.

The prime minister of neighboring Poland, Donald Tusk, said Ukraine could descend into civil war or split between the pro-European West and Russian-speaking east.

Skier withdraws at Sochi

At the Sochi Olympics, Ukrainian skier Bogdana Matsotska withdrew. Her father said she was "extremely angry" at Yanukovych's handling of the conflict.

"Instead of resolving the conflict through negotiations (which we had hope he would when we left for Sochi), [he] has drenched the last hopes of the nation in blood," said Oleg Matsotskyy on his social media page.

Ukraine's National Olympic Committee said it was "shocked" by the violence at home.

Ukraine's hryvnia currency, already near its lowest levels since the global financial crisis five years ago, weakened again on Thursday.

ipj/ph (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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