Ukraine descended further into chaos today as violent clashes between police and protesters left two dead and injured hundreds, in a situation spiralling "out of control" in the country's capital.
Escalating unrest resulted in the first two fatalities today, after the Ukraine's General Prosecutor confirmed two men had died of gunshot wounds and a criminal investigation has been opened.
Talks to resolve the crisis failed to yield any immediate results when President Viktor Yanukovych met with three opposition leaders, while the European Union warned they may have to "rethink their relationship with Ukraine" if proof emerges that peaceful protesters had been shot at or "a systematic violation of human rights" had taken place, Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the EU Commission said.
"If there is a systematic violation of human rights, including shooting at peaceful demonstrators or serious attacks to the basic freedoms ... then we have to rethink our relationship with Ukraine and possibly (there will be) some consequences."
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday Moscow is ready to discuss measures with the EU to "eliminate policies" that are creating "dividing lines" within the Ukraine, after warning that the "situation is getting out of control".
Police stormed barricades on Kiev's central square, detaining some protesters at 6am (GMT) this morning during heavy snowfall. Later, police began chasing protesters from the site of violent clashes, hours after the two protesters died. Helmeted riot police moved in on hundreds of protesters on Wednesday afternoon, beating and firing rubber bullets at some and sending people running.
The Ukraine Prime Minister Mykola Azarov denied reports that police had live ammunition and said opposition leaders should be held responsible for the deaths.
He said anti-government protests had brought "terrorists" onto the streets of Kiev and pledged to punish all "criminal action", even as protesters confronted police near government headquarters.
In pictures: Clashes between police and demonstrators in Kiev, Ukraine
In pictures: Clashes between police and demonstrators in Kiev, Ukraine
Anti-government protesters clash with police on Hrushevskoho Street in Ukraine's capital city on Friday night
Anti-government protesters attempt to take over the Ukrainian House on Sunday night
Protesters and police officers clash during the night of Friday to Saturday. After two months of primarily peaceful anti-government protests in the city center, new laws meant to end the protest movement have sparked violent clashes in recent days
Anti-government protesters clash with policemen in Kiev on Friday night as the protests continue in Ukraine
Anti-government protesters gather around a fire to get warm at a road block in Kiev on 26 January
An anti-government protester prepares to throw a Molotov cocktail during the clashes between protesters and policemen on 24 January
Anti-government protesters hurl Molotov cocktails and burn tires during clashes with police on Hrushevskoho Street near Dynamo stadium on January 24
Protesters confront police in central Kiev on Friday night
Anti-government protesters launches a firework towards police near the Dynamo Stadium in Kiev
Rob Stothard/Getty Images
A protester waves a Ukrainian flag during clashes with police in central Kiev
A protester throws a tire onto a fire in Kiev
Opposition leader and former WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko addresses protesters near the burning barricades between police and protesters in central Kiev
A protester breaks up a mannequin on the roof of the burned truck during clashes with police in central Kiev
A protester throws tires onto a fire during a clash with police in central Kiev
Thick black smoke from burning tires engulfed parts of downtown Kiev as an ultimatum issued by the opposition to the president to call early election or face street rage was set to expire with no sign of a compromise
Protesters use a large slingshot to hurl a Molotov cocktail at police in central Kiev
Burning members of the Ukrainian riot police due to the gasoline bombs hurled by anti-government protestors during the clashes in central Kiev
A demonstrator holds an incendiary device as protesters clash with police in the center of Kiev
Protesters burn tires as they clash with riot police during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
Protesters clash with police in central Kiev. Police in Ukraine's capital tore down protester barricades and chased demonstrators away from the site of violent clashes, hours after two protesters died after being shot
A riot police officer escorts a man as a woman with a cross reacts nearby during clashes between police and pro-European protesters in Kiev
Riot policemen arrest a protestor during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
An injured man is escorted during clashes between police and pro-European protesters in Kiev
Medical workers help an injured man during anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
Medical personnel transport a man who was injured during clashes with riot police in Kiev
A man reacts after he was injured during a rally held by pro-European protesters in Kiev
An Orthodox priest tries to stop clash protesters the police in the center of Kiev
Ukrainian priests stand between protesters and riot police officers during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
An elderly woman walks from police officers as they block a street during unrest in central Kiev
An Ukrainian opposition activist speak to riot-forces standing guard in front of the parliament in Kiev
A protester smokes at the barricade in front of armour-clad security forces blocking access to the Verkhovna Rada parliament in Kiev
Pro-European protester take cover during clashes with riot police in Kiev. Two demonstrators were reported killed in new anti-government unrest in the Ukrainian capital, inflaming protesters who confronted police shouting 'Murderers' and 'Glory to Ukraine!'
Pro-European protesters launch a pyrotechnic pistol towards riot police during clashes in Kiev
A police officer throws a Molotov cocktail during clashes with protesters in central Kiev
A pro-European protester lies on the ground during clashes with riot police in Kiev
Demonstrators beat on a burnt vehicle as pro-European integration protesters hold a rally in Kiev
People stand on a barricade during a clashing break of the opposition and the police in Kiev
Protesters tip over a burnt out police bus during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
A pro-European protester fires a pneumatic gun during clashes with Ukrainian riot police in Kiev
Protesters wearing headbands reading 'Help' shout slogans during an action entitled 'Impose sanctions - stop the violence' in front of the European Union delegation in Ukraine in Kiev. Participants of the rally urged the European Union to immediately impose personal sanctions for those responsible for the use of force against peaceful protesters and journalists, as well as involved in the adoption of unconstitutional laws in Ukraine that violate fundamental human rights
A pro-European integration protester catches fire during clashes with police in Kiev
A pro-European integration protester sits in a burnt police bus after a rally near government administration buildings in Kiev
A pro-European integration protester uses a slingshot during clashes with police in Kiev
A bare chested man waves a Ukrainian flag during clashes between the opposition and police in the centre of Kiev. Opposition protesters were today locked in a tense standoff with Ukrainian police in Kiev after bloody clashes that wounded over 200 people, as President Viktor Yanukovych called emergency talks to resolve the crisis
A protester sprays fire in the direction of the riot police during clashes in the centre of Kiev. EU foreign ministers deplored violent protests in Kiev, saying the government was at fault for passing a package of repressive laws in an effort to tame pro-EU demonstrations
Pro-European integration protesters carry Molotov cocktails during clashes with police in Kiev. Protesters clashed with riot police in the Ukrainian capital after tough anti-protest legislation, which the political opposition says paves the way for a police state and was rushed through parliament
A protester prays as he holds an open Bible during an anti-government protest in downtown Kiev
Protesters clad in improvised protective gear prepare for a clash with police in central Kiev
Pro-European protesters bang on a metal bin during a rally in Kiev
A clergyman opposes riot police in Kiev during a rally held by pro-European integration demonstrators. Protesters gathered in Independence Square as repressive new laws came into force
Pro-European Union activists sing the national anthem in central Kiev
Mr Azarov said: "As the Prime Minister of Ukraine, I officially state that the casualties, which unfortunately already exist, remain on the consciousness and responsibility of the organisers and certain participants of mass disturbances."
The EU also called on Ukraine's government and opposition to “engage in a genuine dialogue”.
“I strongly condemn the violent escalation of events in Kiev overnight leading to casualties. The reported deaths of several protesters are a source of extreme worry,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
Hundreds of protesters have been injured in the clashes, which have been largely restricted to the main protest camp at Independence Square.
The US Embassy said it was revoking the visas of some Ukrainian officials linked to the violence and was considering further action. The embassy would not name the officials, citing privacy laws.
The Prime Minister Mykola Azarov had said police would use force if the unrest continued after new anti-protest laws were rushed through Parliament on Thursday.
Mr Azarov told state broadcaster Russia 24 yesterday evening: "If the provocateurs do not stop, then the authorities will have no other choice but to use force under the law to protect our people."
The two-month standoff, which has attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters to rallies in central Kiev, began after President Yanukovych abruptly spurned a pact with the European Union in favour of close ties with Russia.
His decision to instead turn to Russia for financial assistance outraged many people who had pinned their hopes for a more prosperous future on closer ties with the EU, rather than with their former Soviet rulers.
More to follow
Additional reporting by Associated PressReuse content