KIEV, Ukraine — Protesters threw rocks and firebombs at lines of police today after government snipers shot into crowds of protesters, killing perhaps dozens of people and shattering a truce that was mere hours old.
Protesters told CNN that at least 100 people were killed so far today. The Ukraine Interior ministry says 67 police captured by protesters in Kiev.
Video footage on
Ukrainian television showed protesters leading captured policemen around a protest camp in central Kiev.
Ukrainian television showed scenes of protesters being gunned down and others lying on the street as others rushed up to pull them to safety, carrying them on planks of wood.
President Viktor Yanukovych said police were not armed and "all measures to stop bloodshed and confrontation are being taken." But an Associated Press cameraman said government snipers could be seen firing at crowds of protesters.
"We've passed the point of no return," said a protester identified only as Vitaliy, who was among demonstrators building barricades around around Independence Square after the clashes and who didn't want his full name used out of fear of retribution. "Yanukovych can't be trusted even a little bit."
"Anyone who is occupying any position in the government now should never work in any government institution again," he said.
Foreign ministers from Europe were in the Ukraine capital of Kiev hoping to restore a truce reached late Wednesday night between anti-government protesters and President Viktor Yanukovych.
The diplomats have been threatening to impose sanctions on the government, such as freezing of bank account and travel bans to Europe. But opposition leaders said the government was massing military troops for a final push to destroy the protest encampments that have paralyze Kiev for three months.
The explosion of violence comes a day after Yanukovych replaced his army chief and the Ukraine Security Service said it was readying to conduct an anti-terrorist operation.
The mauyor of Kiev's city administration, Volodymyr Makeyenko, announced he was resigning his post and leaving the ruling party in protest.
Activists rebuilding barricades in Independence Square expressed optimism despite the violence.
"I think today will be a turning point for our revolution," said Igor Zhdanov, a protester in Kiev. "They started to surrender, we threw them back."
Others said the broken truce made it clear Yanukovych is playing for time.
Oleh Hrynyshevskiy, a surgeon, was helping the wounded protesters in a first-aid post in the hall of a post office on Independence Square.
"This is not the end of it — it's just beginning," said Hrynyshevskiy, who rushed to Kiev from western Ukraine on Wednesday to help the wounded.
One protest camp commander, Oleh Mykhnyuk, said that even after the truce call, protesters continued to throw firebombs at riot police on the square. As the sun rose, police pulled back, the protesters followed them and police began shooting at them, he said.
Protesters running about told USA TODAY the demonstrators had no guns with them.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland met with opposition leaders, then with Yanukovych as the violence erupted.
Crimea, a pro-Moscow, autonomous republic within the Ukraine, may secede from the country if tensions escalate further, according to Russian media reports.The head of the Crimean parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, said Ukraine's southern territory may break away if the country descends into further chaos.
Konstantinov told parliament he believes the country is heading toward a split.
The latest bout of street violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would limit the president's power — a key opposition demand. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.
In a statement published early Thursday, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people have died and 287 have been hospitalized during the two days of street violence. Protesters, who have set up a medical care facility in a downtown cathedral, say the numbers are significantly higher.
Ukrainian police said Thursday that more than 20 officers have been wounded by gunfire in the capital. A statement from the Interior Ministry on Thursday said the gunfire appeared to be coming from the national music conservatory, which is on the edge of the downtown square housing an extensive protest tent camp. It did not say when the officers were wounded, but added that they were receiving treatment on Thursday.
Also Thursday, the parliament building was evacuated amid fears protesters were preparing to storm it, said parliament spokeswoman Irina Karnelyuk.
The renewed clashes despite the declaration of truce follow days of violence, the deadliest since protests kicked off three months ago after Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. Russia then announced a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine, whose economy is in tatters.
The ongoing violence on the square Thursday indicates that more radical elements among the protesters may be unwilling to observe the truce and may not be mollified by the prospects of negotiations. Although the initial weeks of protests were determinedly peaceful, radicals helped drive an outburst of clashes with police in January in which at least three people died, and the day of violence on Tuesday may have radicalized many more.
Meanwhile, neither side had appeared willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych's resignation and an early election and the president apparently prepared to fight until the end. Now, protesters are braced for the military to move in, the opposition said.
Political and diplomatic maneuvering has continued, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.
President Obama also stepped in to condemn the violence, warning Wednesday "there will be consequences" for Ukraine if it continues. The U.S. has raised the prospect of joining with the EU to impose sanctions against Ukraine.
Russia's Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, described the violence as an attempted coup and even used the phrase "brown revolution," an allusion to the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933. The ministry said Russia would use "all our influence to restore peace and calm." Meanwhile, Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov laid some of the blame for the escalation in violence on Western countries "that interfered in events by courting the protesters."
Analysts say Russia is trying to maintain its influence in the Ukraine.
"Russia has never not intervened in Ukraine, that's the whole issue," said Ben Tonra, head of the School of Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin in Ireland. "President Putin has actively intervened in Ukrainian politics since the separation of Ukraine."
Contributing: Luigi Serenelli in Berlin; Associated Press