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'Absolute chaos' in Kiev: Truce collapses, death toll rises

An injured man is carried away Thursday after more clashes between anti-government protesters and police in Kiev.
An injured man is carried away Thursday after more clashes between anti-government protesters and police in Kiev.
Yannis Behrakis /Reuters/Landov

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Just hours after a truce was declared, clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces have broken out again in Ukraine's capital.

By early afternoon Thursday in Kiev, at least 21 civilians had been killed, Reuters reports. Those deaths followed the 25 or so fatalities earlier in the week.

From the city's Independence Square, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported on Morning Edition that it's "absolute chaos" in the area. She's seen numerous people carried away on stretchers — one person completely covered by a sheet. Small explosions can be heard. Protest leaders are warning there are snipers on rooftops. The opposition appears to have retaken control of the October Palace, a historic building that's now a cultural center. Smoke is rising over the city.

The protesters, Soraya said, say police forces and "thugs" who support President Viktor Yanukovych never observed the truce that was announced last night.

Yanukovych's office, though, released a statement blaming the opposition for Thursday's deadly violence. It reads, in part:

"Radical protesters ... launched an offensive on the law enforcement officials using firearms despite the declared truce. Assurances of opposition leaders regarding the necessity of truce and restoration of dialogue turned out only a maneuver to play for time and mobilize arming of rebels. ...

"All attempts of the government to establish dialogue and resolve the conflict peacefully were ignored by rebels. They launched an offensive. They act in organized armed groups, use firearms, including sniper rifles, they shoot to kill. ..."

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to end the crisis continue. So do discussions by leaders from other European nations about possible sanctions on the Yanukovych government. Already, the U.S. has said it will not issue travel visas to 20 senior Ukrainian officials.

Also, according to the BBC, "a meeting between EU foreign ministers and President Viktor Yanukovych is now under way, officials say, contradicting earlier reports that the ministers had flown out without seeing him."

President Obama, as The Guardian reports, has had critical words about Russian President Vladimir Putin's role in the crisis. Russia, Obama said Wednesday, still views the world through a "Cold War chessboard" and needs to support the people of Ukraine in their effort to secure basic freedoms.

Russia opposes sanctions against the Yanukovych government.

Britain's foreign ministry said it has summoned Ukraine's ambassador to the U.K. to a meeting.

As we've reported before, the anti-Yanukovych protests that have been raging for weeks were sparked in part by the president's rejection of a pending trade treaty with the European Union and his embrace of more aid from Russia. Protesters have also been drawn into the streets to demonstrate against government corruption.

We'll be updating on the news from Kiev.