Mixed messages out of Ukraine a day after dozens die violently in Kiev

Mixed messages out of Ukraine a day after dozens die violently in Kiev
Friday, February 21, 2014 - 4:46am

There were words of hope in Kiev Friday, a day after protest clashes ended in mass carnage.

But they were mixed with messages of caution, if not to say contradiction. And they were followed by scuffles and loud arguments in Ukraine's parliament.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced early Friday on his website that a deal has been reached to end the crisis.

Overnight negotiations with the opposition, and the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland were successful, the statement said.

The government and the opposition will sign the agreement at noon, a presidential spokesman said.

But France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius sent out a very different message on Twitter, saying that nothing definitive could be said before the morning was over. He urged caution.

Germany's foreign ministry echoed the tone in a tweet: "Very difficult negotiations throughout the night in #Kyiv (Kiev). Now a break to continue talks later on."

Even after Ukranian parliamentarians were called to order and filed back into their seats, they did not appear in harmonious agreement.

Finger pointing and shouting filled the air.

Blood and doubt

If there is indeed a deal, it will surely find its skeptics, given recent experience.

Previous talks ended with announcements that sounded good but ended in deadly disaster.

Twice in recent days, there have been concessions and a truce. But they have broken down into the heaviest bloodlettings seen in this standoff on Kiev's streets that has dragged on since November.

On Tuesday, violent clashes broke out after announced political concessions did not come through. At least 26 people died, protesters and police alike.

Late Wednesday, Yanukovych announced a truce.

But that night, the barricades continued burning.

On Thursday gunfire erupted as front-line protesters pursued police, who were withdrawing from the Maidan, also known as Independence Square, and threw stones and Molotov cocktails at them.

If opposition medics' claims are correct, 100 protesters died that day.

The Ukraine's health ministry put the toll much lower.

It says a total of 77 people have died since lethal clashes broke out Tuesday. The ministry said that 577 people were injured; 369 of those have been hospitalized.

Live ammunition

The Interior Ministry admitted Thursday that its forces used firearms, explaining that it only did so to protect unarmed police who were in danger.

In video shot by Radio Free Europe, men wearing what appear to be government uniforms fired at unseen targets with automatic rifles and a sniper rifle with a telescopic sight. CNN could not immediately confirm their target.

Another video shot by CNN shows a medic trying to help a man on the ground being felled by gunfire.

A doctor volunteering to treat protesters, Olga Bogomolets, accused government forces of shooting to kill, saying she had treated 13 people she believed had been targeted by "professional snipers."

"They were shot directly to their hearts, their brain and to their neck," she said. "They didn't give any chance to doctors, for us, to save lives."

CNN could not independently confirm Bogomolets' claim of sniper fire.

Ukraine's parliament later passed a resolution that security forces should stop using guns, back off from their positions around Maidan and denounce the "anti-terror" operation that had been announced earlier.

It may have been more of a moral declaration. Its real effect is yet to be seen.

In the wake of the crisis, some people in high positions have left.

The head of armed forces was replaced Wednesday by Yanukovych.

And Kiev's mayor resigned from the ruling party. He also reopened the mass transits system, which government officials had shut down to prevent protesters from reaching Independence Square.

Ethnic conflict

The conflict in the Ukraine runs down ethnic lines and is connected to long-standing loyalties beyond its borders.

Eastern regions are home to many people with Russian roots, who speak Russian. In the rest of country, it's largely people of Ukrainian heritage.

The population is divided between historic loyalties to Europe and to its eastern neighbor Russia.

The crisis started, when Yanukovych reversed a decision to sign a trade deal with the European Union and instead turned toward Russia.

The political strife has since ballooned well beyond that one issue, however, including the opposition's pressing constitutional reforms and to shift powers away from the president and to parliament.

Russia has put pressure on Yanukovych to crack down on demonstrators, while Western leaders have urged him to show restraint, allow the opposition more access to government and let the democratic process work out deep political differences.

Both Russia and the West have backed up their positions with monetary threats. Russia has said it expects the Ukraine to take a tough stance on protests before it pays out economic relief that it has offered to Kiev.

Washington and European leaders have threatened sanctions against Ukrainian officials over their part in the violence and imposed travel restrictions on them.

In an unrelated decision, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning for the Ukraine, urging U.S. citizens to postpone travel there due to the violence.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, Phil Black, Andrew Carey and Todd Baxter reported from Kiev, CNN's Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Jessica King and Greg Botelho also contributed to this report. 

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