UPDATE: Kiev's Independence Square Ablaze; At Least 25 Dead And 241 Hospitalized As Clashes Between Police And Protesters Escalate Early Wednesday; Foreign Leaders Speak Up While Putin Called For Non-Interference

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    A care unit in Ukraine.
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    An aerial view shows Independence Square during clashes between anti-government protesters and Interior Ministry members and riot police in central Kiev on Feb. 19, 2014.
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    An aerial view shows Independence Square during clashes between anti-government protesters and Interior Ministry members and riot police in central Kiev on Feb. 19, 2014.
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    Smoke rises above Independence Square as clashes between anti-government protesters with Interior Ministry members and riot police continue in central Kiev on Feb. 19, 2014.
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    Interior Ministry officers walk in formation as smoke rises above Independence Square where anti-government protesters are holding a rally in central Kiev on Feb. 19, 2014.
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    A trade union building is seen on fire in Independence Square as clashes between anti-government protesters with Interior Ministry members and riot police continue in central Kiev on Feb. 19, 2014.
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    An anti-government protester throws a tire during clashes with riot police at the Independence Square in Kiev on Feb. 18, 2014.
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    A general view shows clashes at Independence Square in Kiev early on February 19, 2014.
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    Anti-government protesters climb from a burning building during clashes with riot police in Independence Square in Kiev on Feb. 19, 2014
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    A view shows clashes at Independence Square in Kiev early on Feb. 19, 2014.
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    Anti-government protesters take cover behind shields near fires at a tent encampment during clashes with riot police at Independence Square in Kiev early on Feb. 19, 2014.
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Update as of 7:21 a.m. EST: Anti-government protesters broke into police headquarters in the western city of Lvov, Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported following the violence on Wednesday morning. Activists told the agency that they had released all prisoners held in the building. Protesters have also reportedly seized the regional police directorate, the headquarters of the security service and the prosecutor's office in Ivano-Frankivsk, south of Lvov, according to UNIAN.

Clashes between protesters and police in the country were renewed even as the European Union, or EU, began weighing the possibility of imposing sanctions at emergency talks to discuss the situation in Ukraine Thursday morning. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had called the bloc's foreign ministers and said that "all possible options will be explored." She said in a statement that these talks may include restrictive measures against "those responsible for repression and human rights violations."

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin, through a spokeperson, denied playing a role in influencing Ukraine's violence. "According to President Putin, it is the exclusive prerogative of the Ukraine's legitimate leadership (to decide) how and in what way to achieve the settlement of this situation," Dmitriy Peskov, a spokesperson said, according to BBC. And, according to a Reuters report, uncertainty surrounded the Russian bailout of Ukraine after Peskov deflected questions about when Russia would release the second instalment of a $15bn package.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office also released a statement expressing sadness over the continuing violence. “There will be further steps in that regard, but we are not yet there,” Christiane Wirtz, a spokesperson for Merkel said, regarding the imposition of sanctions.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted, according to BBC: "Violence against peaceful protestors is unacceptable and the Ukrainian government should be held accountable. I will attend emergency meeting of EU Foreign Ministers on Ukraine.”

Update as of 4 a.m. EST: Vice President Joe Biden expressed serious concern about the violence in Ukraine's capital of Kiev, which has so far claimed at least 25 lives, and asked the nation's govenment to "de-escalate the situation," BBC reported citing Associated Press, adding that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier threatened sanctions by the European Union against those "responsible for decisions that led to the bloodshed." 

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk also said he would urge leaders of the EU to impose sanctions on Ukraine's government while Sweden said President Viktor Yanukovych had "blood on his hands." However, Russia's foreign ministry blamed the "conniving politics of Western politicians and European bodies" for the violence, BBC reported.

Update as of 1:28 a.m. EST: Citing the country's health ministry, BBC reported that 25 people have been killed so far in clashes between protesters and riot police at Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine. According to the report, the dead include nine police officers and a journalist, while 241 people have been hospitalized, including 79 policemen and five journalists. The report also added, citing local sources, that in the city of Lviv, 330 miles to the west of Kiev, offices of the state administration, the prosecutor and the regional militia have been occupied by protesters.

 

At least 16 people have been killed and 150 injured after police stormed the main protest camp at Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, turning it into a place resembling a war zone Wednesday morning, news reports said.

The protests began in November after President Viktor Yanukovych, reportedly acting under the influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, refused a pact with the European Union. Protesters accuse Yanukovych of trying to establish closer ties with Russia at the expense of the country's economic progress. The situation on the ground turned violent Wednesday after protesters threw rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails, commonly known as a petrol bomb, against riot squads, which in turn responded with stun grenades and water cannons, Agence France-Presse or AFP reported.

"Yanukovych said that there is only one option... to clear Maidan (the local name for Independence Square) and that everyone has to go home," Vitali Klitschko, leader of the opposition party Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, said after a meeting with the president, AFP reported. 

Meanwhile, a BBC report stated that 18 people had been killed and that Yanukovych blamed opposition parties for the latest violence and urged them to “distance themselves from radical forces.”

The opposition headquarters, the imposing Trade Union House, was up in flames, creating further chaos as people reportedly tried to escape by jumping from windows. The AFP report also said, citing police officials, that seven officers died from gunshot wounds, while authorities and medics counted nine civilian deaths since Tuesday morning.

After the government announced Sunday that it will drop charges against those arrested during the political unrest, protesters pulled back from Kiev’s City Hall and unlocked the streets in the city center. But, on Tuesday, the speaker of the parliament refused amendments limiting the president’s powers and attempted to restore the constitution to what it was in 2004, creating a further rift between the government and the opposition.

Matters got worse on the streets when the prosecutor general for the government said that the opposition was breaking “the truce.”

Viktor Pshonka, Ukraine's prosecutor general, reportedly said: “For the sake of pursuing their own political interests, they (opposition) neglected all previously reached agreements and put lives and the peace of millions of Kiev residents under threat," CNN reported.

This led to a crackdown on Tuesday as riot police reportedly sought to quell the 20,000 protesters with water cannons and stun grenades, following which the headquarters of the ruling Party of Regions was set on fire. The authorities had asked people to stay indoors and had shut down metro stations to control the situation. But, before the smoke could settle down, police reportedly stormed into the protest camp leading to clashes early on Wednesday.

According to a CNN report, the unrest is now spreading to West Ukraine as protesters there have also started attacking police and local government officials. 

BBC reported from the square, citing activists, that massive numbers of supporters were heading from western Ukraine to join protesters in Kiev while more than 10,000 riot police and internal troops surrounded the square, which is reportedly swarming with 30,000 protesters. Meanwhile, 21 journalists have been injured in the violence, the report said, citing The Institute of Mass Media in Ukraine.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon called for restraint and dialog, while NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged "all parties to refrain from violence and to urgently resume dialogue, including through the parliamentary process," according to AFP.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former economy minister and leader of the opposition Fatherland party, said on social networking site Twitter: “Yanukovych has offered us actually to surrender. But people have the right to stand on the Maidan, and we will stand with the people," according to BBC. 

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