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Ukraine protesters seize Kiev central post office

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Defiant Ukrainian protesters seized control of the capital's central post office Wednesday, hurling fire bombs and rocks and standing their ground against officers in riot gear who threw stun grenades and fired water cannon a day after clashes that left at least 25 people dead and raised fears of civil war.

The demonstrators forced their way into into the post office in Independences Square, also known as the Maidan, after a nearby building they had previously occupied was burned down in the previous day's clashes. Against the official onslaught, thousands of activists armed with fire bombs and rocks defended the square which has been a bastion and symbol for the demonstrators.

During the night, the square was encircled by a wall of fire from burning tires. Smoke was still rising from the rose above the center of the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday afternoon.

Ukraine's top security agency on Wednesday accused protesters of seizing hundreds of firearms from its offices and announced a nation-wide anti-terrorist operation after 25 people were killed and hundreds injured hundreds in street clashes in the most unrest in the country's modern history.

The violence Tuesday was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine's capital in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West. It prompted the European Union to threaten sanctions against Ukrainian officials responsible for the violence and triggered angry rebukes from Moscow, which accused the West of triggering the clashes by backing the opposition.

Sanctions would typically include banning leading officials from traveling to the 28-nation bloc and - crucially - freezing their assets there. Travel bans and assets freezes for the powerful oligarchs who back President Viktor Yanukovych could prompt them to pressure him to change course.

But the bad blood runs so high that it's not clear whether an unstoppable force of conflict has been unleashed: The rising rage on both sides has fueled fears that the 46-million nation in the center of Europe could be sliding deeper into violence that could lead to its breakup. While most people in western regions of Ukraine resent Yanukovych, he still enjoys strong support in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where many want strong ties with Russia.

Neither side now appears willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych's resignation and early elections and the president prepared to fight till the end.

Radical protesters willing to confront police with violence were largely shunned at the start of the demonstrations three months ago, but they have become a key force in recent weeks, with moderate demonstrators bringing them food and some even preparing Molotov cocktails for them. Police also have turned increasingly brutal after law enforcement officers were killed.

The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the EU in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued ever since, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

The Kremlin said it put the next disbursement of its bailout on hold amid uncertainty over Ukraine's future and what it described as a "coup attempt."

Yanukovych on Wednesday blamed the protesters for the violence and said the opposition leaders "crossed a line when they called people to arms."

The European Union appears poised to impose sanctions as it called an extraordinary meeting of the 28-nation bloc's foreign ministers for Thursday.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called for "targeted measures against those responsible for violence and use of excessive force can be agreed ... as a matter of urgency."

"It is the political leadership of the country that has a responsibility to ensure the necessary protection of fundamental rights and freedoms," said Barroso, who heads the EU's executive arm. "It was with shock and utter dismay that we have been watching developments over the last 24 hours in Ukraine."

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.

Police responded by attacking the protest camp. Armed with water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets, police dismantled some barricades and took part of the Maidan. But the protesters held their ground through the night, encircling the camp with new burning barricades of tires, furniture and debris.

On Wednesday morning, the center of Kiev was cordoned off by police, the subway was shut down and most shops on Kiev's main street were closed. But hundreds of Ukrainians still flocked to the opposition camp, some wearing balaclavas and armed with bats, others in everyday clothes and with makeup on, carrying food to protesters.

A group of young men and women poured petrol into plastic bottles, preparing fire bombs, while a volunteer walked past them distributing ham sandwiches from a tray. Another group of activists was busy crushing the pavement into pieces and into bags to fortify barricades.

"The revolution turned into a war with the authorities," said Vasyl Oleksenko, 57, a retired geologist from central Ukraine, who said he fled the night's violence fearing for his life, but returned to the square in the morning, feeling ashamed. "We must fight this bloody, criminal leadership. We must fight for our country, our Ukraine."

Yanukovych was defiant on Wednesday, his tone leaving little hope for a compromise.

"I again call on the leaders of the opposition ... to draw a boundary between themselves and radical forces which are provoking bloodshed and clashes with the security services," the president said in a statement. "If they don't want to leave (the square) - they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation with them will already be of a different kind." He also called a day of mourning for the dead on Thursday.

The Health Ministry said 25 people died in the clashes, some from gunshot wounds, and Kiev hospitals were struggling to treat hundreds of injured. Activists also set up a makeshift medical unit inside a landmark Orthodox Church not far from the camp, where volunteer medics were taking care of the wounded.

Meanwhile, in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where most residents yearn for stronger ties with the EU and have little sympathy for Yanukovych, protesters seized several government buildings, including the governor's office, police stations, prosecutors and security agency offices and the tax agency headquarters. They also broke into an Interior Ministry unit and set it on fire. The building was still smoldering Wednesday morning and some protesters were driving around town in police cars they had seized during the night.

Tensions continued mounting. The government imposed restrictions for transport moving toward Kiev, apparently to prevent more opposition activists from coming from the Western part of the country, and at least one train from Lviv was held outside Kiev. Several highways into Kiev were also blocked by police.

Acting Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev told the ITAR-Tass news agency that he has dispatched a paratrooper brigade to Kiev to help protect arsenals. He refused to say if the unit could be used against protesters, the agency said.

Tensions soared after Russia said Monday that it was ready to resume providing the loans that Yanukovych's government needs to keep Ukraine's ailing economy afloat. This raised fears among the opposition that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that Putin had a phone conversation with Yanukovych overnight. Peskov said that Putin hasn't given Yanukovych any advice how to settle the crisis, adding that it's up to the Ukrainian government.

Peskov also added that the next disbursement of a Russian bailout has remained on hold, saying the priority now is to settle the crisis, which he described as a "coup attempt."

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement, blaming the West for the failure to condemn the opposition for the latest bout of violence.

EU leaders took the opposite stance, with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt putting the blame on Yanukovych in an unusually tough statement.

"Today, President Yanukovich has blood on his hands," Bildt said.

Join the discussion

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bdgrizcp February 19 2014 at 2:58 PM

For some reason Russia liked it best when it still had a moat of countries protecting it from a ground invasion from Europe. Since it's still 1938 in Russia they continue to think like this. Sigh. Sure, we all know it's 2014, but the Russians, well, you know. Putin is so much a part of that old warrior school he thinks Napoleon's invasion was recent. I would expect that if he gets his paws on Ukraine, then Estonia, Latvia, Poland, et al, are up for grabs. Putin's foreigh policy can be summed up thusly: 'Peace is vat ve vant and do haff, und a piece of anything you haff.' With apologies to the Lampoon. Another La Brea Tarpit School of Foreign Policy nightmare.

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octavian2010 February 19 2014 at 3:08 PM

The violence is being caused by the neo-Nazi Svobada party from Lviv. People need to understand what is really happening.

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sandinbox octavian2010 February 20 2014 at 1:05 AM

youre are lying putin troll thats what people need to know ukranians have been sedding their bllod for freedom for centuries. when poland let ukraine go they became friends now russia needs to let her go we are all brothers and sisters in blood but its been a dysfunctional family for too long and we need a divorce well probably get along much better if you stop trying to dominate us.

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bjamebon3 February 19 2014 at 12:58 PM

Hmmm , this is trouble here . People are affraid of Russia getting a foothold here. This leader ought to step down as many don't want him although he does have support . Someone that is willing to govern the way all country wants would be better.

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. bjamebon3 February 19 2014 at 1:27 PM

Applies to the great USA as well doesn't it? Would love to see Obama step down!

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morphiss7 . February 19 2014 at 1:39 PM

maybe this is what it takes to wake up the politicians in this country. They better start getting responsive.
civil disobedience is in the air !!

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jeanawest2007 February 19 2014 at 3:03 PM

God speed fellow Ukrainians, my prayers are with you. All us Ukrainian-Americans support, pray and agonize for our homeland, brothers and sisters, not to mention our families that are in the middle of this nightmare. May the demonic communist perpetrators responsible for this devastation and murder pay 10 fold. There will be a day of judgment, as there was in 1932-1933 when Stalin starved 11 million Ukrainians... it's called Karma.

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berthonyl February 19 2014 at 2:59 PM

some one need to take out yanukovich .he is KGB ****

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bwimpling February 19 2014 at 2:50 PM

Here we go again,another Soviet Union in the making.The Ukranian people can see it coming and want no part of it.

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. February 19 2014 at 1:24 PM

If you think that it Cannot happen here, guess again! People world wide are fed up with politics and no jobs and it is rippling around the world.

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vilkai February 19 2014 at 1:59 PM

Protesters in Kiev are not terorists, they are the ordinary people like all of us, who like to live in free Ukraine and be a part of EU, who don't like to be ruled by Russian presdident Putin. If prorussian Ukrainian goverment (with Putin behind them) wins... we will see more similar events in many former Soviet Republics and it's not silly at all...

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Ronald Malozi February 19 2014 at 1:54 PM

The Ukranians don't want their government that's sold-out to revert to Communism and be a part of old Russia. The Ukraine wants to be a part of Europe not Communistic Russia. They're standing up and taking their country back like in Syria and Egypt.

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1 reply
harri82856 Ronald Malozi February 19 2014 at 2:56 PM

This may be true but are they speaking for the majority of Ukrainians? If not, they need to shut up and let the majority rule.

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shelly February 19 2014 at 3:17 PM

There's NO EXCUSE for attacking protesting citizens and killing them! All citizens should be outraged at what the powerful corrupt tyrants are trying to pull off in the entire world... America too! and our gov. is pumping up all our police to do the same thing to us, our day is coming! And sooner than you think!

...And when our Police have taken us down, who will stand and fight with the police against the foriegn armies the Tyrants have planned -to take them down! Remember the 15,000 Russian troops promised for crowd control in U.S. last year! It is estimated there is some 200,000 foriegner troops waiting in the wings inside the U.S. Right Now!

Wake-up America. Paul Revere is running through your streets, sounding the Alarm!!!

We are out of time. We must march on the White House NOW! Obama, the shadow gov. puppet (not really a muslim - just trying to upset us all to get the war!) and all his appointees and biden, kerry, clinton. all need to be thrown out NOW!... Preferably jailed, because they ARE treasonous Tyrants, plotting to take America to hell in a few weeks!

These are the same Tyrants who were paying Hitler -These Romans, Jesuit Tyrants were behind Hitler, Stalin, Mousollini, Mao... and more than 20 tyrants who each took more lives than were taken in WW1 and WW2... Including the absolute worst Tyrants in History -have ties to this shadow government element… Charles Gustav, Gustave II Adolph, Oliver Cromwell, Timor Link, Ivan the Terrible, Kristian Tyrann, Issabella and Ferdinan, Vlad Temps, Hong Wu, The Ottomans, The Crusaders, Pope Urban, Commodus, Nero, Claudius, Caligula, Augustus, Ceasar…

Its mind blowing we Americans have never been taught real History, Intentionally!
How many people know we had some 15 Presidents before George Washington.

This shadow government is the same who is behind the crime mob in the U.S.

Christians … This IS your problem too… These same scum were behind the Holocaust and tatoo numbers on the victims and it wasnt the end of the world then! God instructs us to Fight - for what is Right and Godly!

On June 28, 1945, President Harry Truman said in a speech: “It will be just as easy for nations to get along in a republic of the world as it is for us to get along in a republic of the United States.”

On October 24, 1945, Senator Glen Taylor (D-Idaho) introduced Senate Resolution No. 183, which called for the Senate to go on record as advocating the establishment of a world republic, including an international police force.

Brock Chisholm, the first director of the UN World Health Organization said: “To achieve one world government it is necessary to remove from the minds of men their individualism, their loyalty to family traditions and national identification.”

Please wake-up, because in a few weeks when dollar has crashed and milk costs $150...

Well imagine when you wake up in the morning, there is no breakfast for your family and you cant go out and buy any... Will you kill for food.

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1 reply
beverley155 shelly February 19 2014 at 4:52 PM

., I agree with the first paragraph-but the rest . -I was under the impression this was a discussion about Ukraine. Perhaps u did not note that the protestors-had no guns-at first- only had sticks. U brought religion into your rant-do u know the religiion of the men who defied England's rule. or of signers of Declaration of Independence.

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