Kiev (Ukraine): Tossing firebombs, protesters advanced upon police lines on Thursday in Ukraine's embattled capital. Government snipers shot back, killing at least 70 people and wounding hundreds of others, according to a protest doctor.
Protesters were also seen leading policemen with their hands held high around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev. Ukraine's Interior ministry says 67 police were captured in all, it was not clear how. An opposition lawmaker said they were being held in Kiev's occupied city hall.
President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition protesters who are demanding his resignation are locked in an epic battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country — mostly in its western cities — are in open revolt against Yanukovych's central government, while many in eastern Ukraine back the president and favour strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.
Protesters across the country are also upset over corruption in Ukraine, the lack of democratic rights and the country's ailing economy, which just barely avoided bankruptcy with a $15 billion loan from Russia.
At least 101 people have died this week in the clashes in Kiev, a sharp reversal in three months of mostly peaceful protests. Now neither side appears willing to compromise or in control of the streets. The opposition is insisting on Yanukovych's resignation and an early election while the embattled president is apparently prepared to fight until the end.
Thursday was the deadliest day yet at the sprawling protest camp on Kiev's Independence Square, also called the Maidan. Snipers were seen shooting at protesters there — and video footage showed at least one sniper wearing a Ukraine riot police uniform.
There was no way to immediately verify any of the death tolls. Earlier in the day, an Associated Press reporter saw the bodies of 21 protesters laid out near Kiev's protest camp.
Saying the U.S. was outraged by the violence, President Barack Obama issued a statement urging Yanukovych to withdraw his forces from downtown Kiev immediately. He also said Ukraine should respect the right of protest and that protesters must be peaceful.
In Brussels, the 28-nation European Union decided in an emergency meeting Thursday to impose sanctions against those behind the violence in Ukraine. The U.S. is considering whether to join the EU sanctions. A freeze on assets and travel bans could hurt the oligarchs who back Yanukovych.
Although the first weeks of the protests were determinedly peaceful, radical elements have become more influential as impatience with the lack of progress grows. In their battles Thursday, those hard-hatted protesters with makeshift weapons regained some of the territory on the Maidan's fringes that police had seized earlier in the week.
The Interior Ministry warned Kiev residents to stay indoors Thursday because of the “armed and aggressive mood of the people.''
Some signs emerged that Yanukovych is losing loyalists. The chief of Kiev's city administration, Volodymyr Makeyenko, announced Thursday he was leaving Yanukovych's Party of Regions.
''Their inaction is leading to the strengthening of opposition and human victims,” the Interfax news agency reported.
The parliament building was evacuated on Thursday because of fears that protesters would storm it, as were the government office in Kiev and the Foreign Ministry buildings.
But parliament convened in the afternoon, with some pro-government lawmakers heeding the opposition’s call to work out a solution to the political stalemate.