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Ukraine crisis: Ousted President, Viktor Yanukovych, accused of complicity in shooting of protesters by police snipers

Head of security service blames Berkut riot police for the killing of more than 100 protesters in mid-February

The Ukrainian authorities have claimed that the ousted President, Viktor Yanukovych, was involved in drawing up plans under which police snipers shot dead dozens of protesters, and they hinted at a Russian role in the violent crackdown.

The head of Ukraine’s security service blamed the Berkut riot police for the killing of more than 100 protesters in mid-February, a turning point in the Moscow-backed leader’s doomed struggle to keep power. He also said representatives of Russia’s FSB security force had been seen at the Ukrainian security service’s headquarters during the protests that began in November and that a Russian plane had flown a large amount of explosives into Ukraine.

The hints of Russian involvement could further strain ties with Ukraine’s former Soviet master, which annexed the Crimea region after Mr Yanukovych’s removal from power in what has become the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

“The former government of the country gave criminal orders and a huge number of people suffered in the ‘mincer’,” Arsen Avakov, the Interior Minister, told a news conference in Kiev at which details of an inquiry into the killings were announced.

Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, head of the state security service (the SBU), added: “It was intended as a counter-terrorism operation but effectively the mass murder of people happened directly under the leadership of  Yanukovych.”

The new government has been under pressure to identify and punish the killers although Mr Yanukovych has denied ordering the killings.

In the final, bloody days of the protests, rooftop snipers picked off protesters and medical workers on 20 February. Many died on the spot from shots to the neck and scores of bodies were left strewn on the ground in central Kiev.

One day after the killings, which followed three months of mainly peaceful protests over Mr Yanukovych’s decision to spurn closer trade and political ties with the European Union, the President fled Kiev. He was deposed by parliament on 22 February.

The prosecutor general said 12 members of the Berkut’s Black Unit had been arrested on suspicion of shooting peaceful protesters. Mr Nalyvaichenko said members of a special unit in the SBU had also been involved.