1:56 p.m.: 'Fragile truce' holds in Kiev
"Violent protests in Ukraine have spread beyond the capital, Kiev," the BBC writes, as President Viktor Yanukovych and three key opposition leaders meet.
On Friday, according to the BBC, "protesters stormed the governor's offices in Lviv, and there were rallies in at least five more western cities."
While the BBC goes on to say that a "fragile truce" is holding in Kiev, despite earlier warnings from the protesters that there could be more violence in the capital, Reuters puts an ominous cast on its report about what may happen in coming days:
"Ukrainian protesters erected more street barricades and occupied a government ministry building on Friday after the failure of crisis talks with President Viktor Yanukovich, pointing to a further hot weekend of protest."
At least two protesters were killed in clashes with police earlier this week in Kiev. Demonstrators are calling for new elections. As NPR's Corey Flintoff has reported, "the opposition accuses Yanukovych of trying to seize autocratic power." There have been protests since last November, when Yanukovych decided Ukraine should pull out of a pending treaty with the European Union. Demonstrators want him to call for new eletions. Corey has also noted that:
"The deal that Yanukovych rejected would have opened up greater trade and investment from the EU, but it would have also required Yanukovych to fight corruption and make democratic reforms. Instead, he made a deal with Russian President [Vladimir] Putin that, as far as we know, at least, didn't require any reforms. Russia is lending Ukraine $15 billion. It's giving a big discount on the price of natural gas that the country relies on for most of its energy. And the opposition accuses Yanukovych of making the country so deeply indebted to Russia that it will never get out of Moscow's orbit."
The Associated Press reports that the brutal rape of a young woman, allegedly by two police officers, also galvanized the opposition.
There was some conflicting information Friday about what, if anything, was accomplished during talks between the government and the opposition. While most news reports were about the spreading of demonstrations, the AP was also reporting that "Ukrainian news agencies say the president has promised a government reshuffle, amnesty."
11:18 a.m.: Leader names new army chief
As fires burned in central Kiev for a second night Wednesday, Ukraine's embattled president replaced the chief of the country's armed forces and the military announced it could take part in a national anti-terrorist operation to restore order.
The move, announced in a decree from President Viktor Yanukovych, came a day after 25 people were killed and nearly 250 injured in clashes between police and protesters at the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev.
The announcement boded ill for any reconciliation efforts between Yanukovych's government and the protesters who have demanded his resignation for nearly three months. Officials have often referred to the demonstrators as "terrorists."
It also came ahead of an emergency meeting Thursday in Brussels, where European Union ministers said they would consider sanctions against those responsible for violence in Ukraine.
The violence this week was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Kiev, Ukraine's capital. The opposition and Yanukovych's government are locked in a stalemate over the identity of their nation of 46 million, which is divided in its loyalties between Russia and the West.
Ukraine's top security agency accused protesters Wednesday of seizing hundreds of firearms from its offices and announced a nationwide anti-terrorist operation to restore order. The Defense Ministry said the army could take part in the operation.
Demonstrators, meanwhile, forced their way into the post office on Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, after a nearby building they had previously occupied was burned down Tuesday in fierce, fiery clashes with riot police. Thousands of activists armed with fire bombs and rocks had defended the square Tuesday, which has become a key symbol of the protests.
Black smoke from the sprawling, now-burnt opposition camp was still rising above the center of Kiev 24 hours later.
The shocking escalation of violence has prompted the European Union to threaten sanctions against Ukrainian officials responsible for the bloodshed and triggered an angry rebuke from Moscow, which accused the West of setting off the clashes by backing the opposition. The 28-nation EU is holding an emergency meeting on Ukraine in Brussels on Thursday.
In Paris, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters Wednesday in a joint appearance with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that he and his counterparts from Germany and Poland would meet both sides in Ukraine ahead of the EU meeting on possible sanctions.
He said he hoped the two sides "will find a way for dialogue."
Possible sanctions include banning leading officials from traveling to EU nations or freezing their assets there. Travel bans and assets freezes for the powerful oligarchs who back Yanukovych could prompt them to pressure him to change course.
But the bad blood in Ukraine now runs so high it has fueled fears the nation could be sliding toward a messy breakup. While most people in the country's western regions resent Yanukovych, he enjoys strong support in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where many want strong ties with Russia.
Neither side now appears willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych's resignation and early elections and the president prepared to fight till the end.
Amid a stagnating economy and soaring corruption, Ukrainians have been angered to see that Yanukovych's close friends and family have risen to top government posts and amassed fortunes since he came to power in 2010. Yanukovych's son, Oleksander, a dentist, has become a financial and construction magnate worth $187 million, according to Forbes Ukraine.
Yanukovych on Wednesday blamed the protesters for the violence and said the opposition leaders "crossed a line when they called people to arms."
"I again call on the leaders of the opposition ... to draw a boundary between themselves and radical forces, which are provoking bloodshed and clashes with the security services," the president said in a statement. "If they don't want to leave (the square) — they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation with them will already be of a different kind."
He also called for a day of mourning Thursday for the dead.
Radical protesters willing to confront police with violence were largely shunned at the start of the peaceful demonstrations three months ago, but they have become a key force in recent weeks, with moderate demonstrators bringing them food and even preparing Molotov cocktails for them. Police also have turned increasingly brutal after law enforcement officers were killed.
Opposition lawmaker Oleh Lyashko warned that Yanukovych himself was in danger if he does not offer some concessions.
"Yanukovych, you will end like (Moammar) Gadhafi," Lyashko told thousands of angry protesters. "Either you, a parasite, will stop killing people or this fate will await you. Remember this, dictator!"
The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the EU in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering has continued since, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.
The Kremlin said it put the next disbursement of its bailout on hold amid uncertainty over Ukraine's future and what it described as a "coup attempt."
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, meanwhile, called for "targeted measures against those responsible for violence."
"It was with shock and utter dismay that we have been watching developments over the last 24 hours in Ukraine," he said.
The latest bout of street violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would limit the president's power — a key opposition demand. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.
Police responded by attacking the protest camp. Armed with water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets, police dismantled some barricades. But the protesters held their ground through the night, encircling the protest camp with new burning barricades of tires, furniture and debris.
On Wednesday morning, the center of Kiev was cordoned off by police, the subway was shut down and most shops on Kiev's main street were closed. But hundreds of Ukrainians still flocked to the opposition camp, some wearing balaclavas and armed with bats.
One group of young men and women poured petrol into plastic bottles, preparing fire bombs, while a volunteer walked by distributing ham sandwiches. Other activists were busy crushing the pavement into bags to fortify the barricades.
"The revolution has turned into a war with the authorities," said Vasyl Oleksenko, 57, a retired geologist from central Ukraine who fled Tuesday night's violence fearing for his life. "We must fight this bloody, criminal leadership. We must fight for our country, our Ukraine."
The Health Ministry said 25 people died in the clashes, some from gunshot wounds, and Kiev hospitals were struggling to treat hundreds of injured.
Meanwhile, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where most residents yearn for stronger ties with the EU and have little sympathy for Yanukovych, protesters seized several government buildings, including the governor's office, police stations, and offices for prosecutors, security officials and the tax agency. They also broke into an Interior Ministry unit and set it on fire.
In another western city, Lutsk, protesters handcuffed the regional governor, a Yanukovych appointee, and tied him to the stage on a central square after he refused to resign.
In the city of Khmelnitsky, three people were injured when protesters tried to storm a law enforcement office.
Government buildings were stormed or besieged in other western cities.
Ukraine's ailing economy is a major factor in the crisis. On Monday, Russia said it was ready to resume providing the loans that Yanukovych's government needs to keep the country afloat. This raised fears among the opposition that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in a statement that Putin spoke to Yanukovych overnight by phone but that it's up to the Ukrainian government to settle its own problems.
Peskov also added that the next Russian bailout payment is on hold, saying the priority now is to settle the crisis, which he described as a "coup attempt."
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming the West for failing to condemn the opposition for the latest bout of violence, while EU leaders took the opposite stance.
"Today, President Yanukovych has blood on his hands," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said.
6:52 a.m.: Kiev is 'a war zone' as chaos continues in Ukraine
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.