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Ukraine

Ukraine crisis talks underway in Brussels as deadly fighting escalates

EU foreign ministers in Brussels have sanctioned visa bans and asset freezes on those responsible for the bloodshed in Ukraine. Days of deadly violence have rocked the capital, Kyiv.

Kyiv warns citizens to stay indoors

Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino said on Thursday the European Union had agreed to impose the sanctions on Ukranians with "blood on their hands."

Bonino said the measures would be imposed very soon.

"The decision is to proceed very rapidly, in the next hours, to a visa ban and asset freeze on those who have committed the violence," she told reporters.

The EU ministers had met earlier on Thursday to decide how to react to the deadly violence in Ukraine, in a meeting led by foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The group was missing three ministers, Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier, France's Laurent Fabius, and Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski, who stayed on in Kyiv. The trio met on Thursday with Ukranian president Viktor Yanukovych, followed by talks with opposition figures.

Sikorski tweets

Late on Thursday, Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said progress had been made.

"After talks with the Opposition, on the way back to the President to help negotiations. Progress made but important differences remain," Sikorski wrote on Twitter.

Polish foreign ministry spokesman Marcin Wojciechowski tweeted the group was "extending their stay in Kyiv to tomorrow. We face a night of difficult negotiatiations."

Days of violence

A brief truce in Kyiv collapsed on Thursday, with video footage on Ukrainian television showing protesters being cut down by gunfire in the central Independence Square. Witnesses said they saw snipers firing over a one-hour period before fighting subsided.

Mareike Aden reports from Kyiv

The violence occurred a few hundred meters from where Yanukovych met the EU delegation. Protesters who have occupied the area for almost three months hurled petrol bombs and paving stones to drive riot police away.

Dozens of wounded protesters were treated in makeshift clinics, while numerous ambulances were sighted. Local media said radical demonstrators approached government buildings before being urged by their leaders to return to barricades.

There have been reports that hotels in Kyiv are being turned into morgues as the death toll rises. The Maidan protestors' medical service reported that over 100 people were shot on Thursday, and about 500 hospitalized.

On Thursday evening, anti-government protesters used bricks to set up a barricade in central Kyiv (seen above).

Injury, death toll uncertain

There is conflicting information as to the exact death and injury toll. It is believed Thursday's fatalities numbered more than 20, taking the overall death toll from clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday to above 50, including around one dozen police.

A photographer from the news agency Reuters reported seeing the bodies of 21 dead civilians in Independence Square on Thursday.

'Hostage' situation

There are reports that 67 police officers are being held hostage in Kyiv's occupied city hall, with protesters leading them there around the protest camp in the capital's center.

Ukraine's interior ministry said earlier on Thursday that riot policemen had been armed with combat weapons.

"To free the hostages police have the right to use their weapons," the ministry said in a statement posted online.

Russia sends mediator to Ukraine

Russia, meanwhile, says it has acted on a request from Yanukovych and sent a representative to Kyiv to act as a mediator.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian media Yanukovych "proposed that the Russian leader [Vladimir Putin] send to Kyiv a Russian representative to participate as a mediator in the talks with the opposition."

"Putin has decided to charge the human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin with this mission," Peskov said. Lukin has in the past criticized some Russian court decisions, such as the jailing of the members of the punk rock band Pussy Riot.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also called Viktor Yanukovych to urge him to accept the EU's offer of mediation in the crisis, while condemning the violence.

jr/dr (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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