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Ukraine

Ukraine President Yanukovych meets with opposition after deadly clashes

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has met with opposition leaders following a violent outburst that left three people dead. Meanwhile, ex-Prime Minister Tymoshenko has called on Ukrainians to sustain the "fight."

Yanukovych meets with opposition

Initial reports on Wednesday evening indicated that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had met with several opposition leaders for three hours.

Several hours after the meeting, opposition leader and former-boxer Vitaly Klitschko said neither side had reached an agreement.

"We must do all we can to stop [the police from] clearing us out," Klitschko told protesters on Kyiv's Independence Square. "Tomorrow if the president does not respond...then we will go on the offensive."

The sit-down between the two sides came after several protesters died on Wednesday the first deaths since demonstrations calling for the resignation of Yanukovych's government erupted in November.

Two people died from gunshot wounds during an early-morning raid by police on a barricaded protest camp in downtown Kyiv, according to the Prosecutor General's Office. It was not immediately clear if they had died from live ammunition or rubber bullets.

The third death occurred when a man - reportedly being chased by police - fell to his death.

Television footage on Wednesday showed continued violence with fires blazing on Kyiv's Independence Square and shield-carrying policemen batting away protesters from the snow-covered streets. Protesters engaged in the clashes pelted security forces with stones and molotov cocktails.

The news agency AFP reported that at least 300 people had been wounded on Wednesday as clashes continued throughout the day, quoting the coordinator of the opposition's medical center, Oleg Musiy.

Yanukovych's decision to forego entering a trade agreement with the EU in November sparked mass protests from citizens who feared the move signalled his wish to foster stronger trade ties with Russia instead. The opposition has been calling for his government's resignation.

Protester turnout dwindled at the beginning of the year, but was soon rekindled by a new law last week aimed at quashing the movement altogether.

'Defend Ukraine!'

Ukraine's jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko issued a statement on Wednesday calling on her countrymen to continue their fight against the "dictatorship."

"Protect Ukraine and fear nothing! Ukraine has no one but you to defend it. You are heroes," Tymokshenko said according to her spokesperson.

"[Our] freedom is worth this fight," she said, adding that she would fight alongside them if she could.

Tymoshenko was jailed in 2011 for seven years on charges of abuse of power and tax evasion. She and her supporters claim the arrest and subsequent imprisonment were politically motivated.

"Yanukovych has the blood of Ukraine's heros on his hands," Tymoshenko said, calling on security forces to abandon their posts and join demonstrators to avoid having the bloodshed on their hands as well.

Condemnation for violence

While the escalation in violence prompted Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the opposition to blame each other for the fatalities, EU leaders weighed in with concern and warned of consequences.

"I strongly condemn the violent escalation of events in Kyiv overnight leading to casualties," said the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "The reported deaths of several protesters is a source of extreme worry and my sympathy goes to all those affected."

She added that Ukrainian citizens' rights of assembly, freedom of expression and media "must be fully respected and protected."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the violence could result in "action" to be taken by the EU against Ukraine, but did not elaborate on what form this might take.

The United States has imposed visa restrictions on Ukrainian officials who have reportedly been involved in police action against protesters in November and December.

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

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