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Kiev Is 'A War Zone' As Chaos Continues In Ukraine

NPR icon by Mark Memmott
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Alexey Furman

The center of Kiev looks like a war zone today. Streets and squares in the capital of Ukraine are littered with rocks, bricks, spent stun grenades and tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and burning tires, the BBC's David Stern said Wednesday on Morning Edition.

The debris is what's been left behind after Tuesday's deadly clashes between police and some of the thousands of anti-government protesters. Swept away from the scene to overflowing hospitals and morgues: at least 25 people who were killed yesterday and another 241 who were injured, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, according to Stern, the two sides appear to be "digging in even deeper."

President Viktor Yanukovych is blaming opposition leaders for the deadly violence, saying that they "crossed a line when they called people to arms." He also accused them of trying "to seize power by resorting to pogroms, arsons and murders."

One of the opposition leaders, former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who on Tuesday vowed that he and other protesters "will not go anywhere," went to the president's office shortly before midnight. According to the AP:

"Klitschko returned to the square early Wednesday without reaching any agreement on ending the violence. Klitschko told reporters that he had asked the president to stop the police action to clear the square and prevent further deaths, but Yanukovych's only proposal was that the demonstrators have to go home and stop the protests."

The clashes continue. As morning turned to afternoon Wednesday in Kiev, "several thousand riot police were still trying to storm the burning barricades of the protesters' tent camp in Independence Square," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Police shot tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at the protesters who responded in kind by hurling cobblestones and Molotov cocktails at police. Police also used powerful water canons, aiming them at protesters on top of barricades. Both sides accused the other of using live ammunition."

As we wrote Tuesday, "at issue is Ukraine's future direction. Late last year, Yanukovych rejected a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow, leading to protests against his government." Protests began soon after that.

On Morning Edition, the BBC's Stern said the protesters' complaints now extend well beyond the rejected trade deal. "They want a new system," he said, and see the "whole [government] structure as rotten and corrupt. ... The EU has provided a symbol for the direction that these protesters want to go."

There are fears, Stern added, of civil war. Protests have spread to other cities. "We're not at that point yet," he said, but "it is a divided country."

The international community continues to weigh in. The AP says that:

"In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden expressed his 'grave concern' in telephone call to Yanukovych, urging him to pull back government forces and exercise maximum restraint. The White House said Biden also called on Ukraine's government to address the protesters' 'legitimate grievances' and put forward proposals for political reform.

"Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged both sides to end the violence, halt their ultimatums and hold high-level talks."

Russian Foreign Ministry official Aleksandr Lukashevich, meanwhile, has condemned what he sees as U.S. interference in Ukraine's affairs.

Foreign ministers from the EU nations plan to meet Thursday in Brussels and will consider sanctions that could include "travel bans targeting the Ukrainian leadership and asset freezes," the AP says.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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