Fierce clashes between police and protesters have shattered a brief truce in Ukraine’s besieged capital leaving at least 22 people dead.
Government snipers were reported to be shooting at some of the protesters in Kiev.
The deaths came in a new eruption of violence just hours after the country’s embattled president and the opposition leaders demanding his resignation called for a truce and negotiations to try to resolve Ukraine’s protracted political crisis.
As heavy smoke from burning barricades rose into the sky, the foreign ministers of three European countries – Germany, France and Poland – met President Viktor Yanukovych, after first meeting opposition leaders.
Later today in Brussels, the European Union was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on Ukraine, to consider sanctions against those behind the violence.
The Government and protesters are locked in a decades-long battle over the identity of the nation of 46 million, whose loyalties are divided between Russia and the West. Parts of the country- mostly in its western cities – are in open revolt against President Viktor Yanukovych’s central government.
An Associated Press reporter saw 21 bodies today laid out on the edge of the sprawling protest encampment in central Kiev. In addition, one policeman was killed and 28 suffered gunshot wounds today, the Interior Ministry said.
Today’s deaths brought the week’s death toll to at least 50 in Kiev, with hundreds injured.
Neither side appears 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.
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.
In a statement early today, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people have died and 287 have been taken to hospital during the two days of street violence.
Protesters, who have set up a medical care facility in a central cathedral so that wounded colleagues would not be snatched by police at hospitals, say the numbers of injured are significantly higher – possibly double or triple that.
A statement from the Interior Ministry said the gunfire against officers appeared to be coming from the national music conservatory in Kiev, which is on the edge of the central square housing the extensive protest tent camp.
Also today, the parliament building was evacuated because of fears protesters were preparing to storm it, said parliament spokeswoman.
The clashes this week have been the most deadly since protests kicked off three months ago after Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia. Russia then announced a 15 billion dollar (£9bn) bailout for Ukraine, whose economy is in tatters.
Although the initial weeks of protests were 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 radicalised many more.
Political and diplomatic manoeuvering has continued, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.
President Barack Obama also stepped in to condemn the violence, warning “there will be consequences” for Ukraine if it continues. The US 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”.