Tuesday’s clashes were the first to lead to deaths since Jan. 22, when two protesters were hit with live ammunition and a third fell.
Angry protesters had hurled stones at police and set trucks blocking their way on fire. Riot police retaliated with stun grenades and fired what appeared to be small metal balls, as smoke from burning tires and vehicles billowed over Kiev.
Olha Bilyk, spokeswoman for the Kiev city police, told The Associated Press that six policemen died from gunshot wounds and 159 were wounded, including 39 who were shot. She also said seven civilians died, including three who were shot.
The coordinator for the opposition’s medical response team, Oleh Musiy, said more than 400 protesters were injured. He also claimed that about 20 had died, but this could not independently be confirmed.
One of the civilians was found dead after protesters stormed the office of the president’s Party of Regions. Police pushed them away, but when firefighters arrived to put out a fire, they discovered the body of an office employee, Kiev’s emergency services said.
Justice Minister Olena Lukash, a close Yanukovych aide, accused the opposition of violating earlier agreements with the government and blamed protest leaders for the violence.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged both sides to end the violence, halt their ultimatums and hold high-level talks.
U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey R. Payatt also threatened both sides with sanctions. “We believe Ukraine’s crisis can still be solved via dialogue, but those on both sides who fuel violence will open themselves to sanctions,” Payatt said on Twitter.
Germany has refused to back Washington’s calls for sanctions against Ukraine’s government to pressure it into accepting opposition demands for reforms.
But when central Kiev exploded in violence Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Ukrainian security forces have a “particular responsibility” to de-escalate the situation, adding that the EU might resort to unspecified sanctions against individuals. “Whoever is responsible for decisions that lead to bloodshed in the center of Kiev or elsewhere in Ukraine will need to consider that Europe’s previous reluctance for personal sanctions must be rethought,” he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the West for the escalation of the violence and called on the opposition to work with the government to find a way out of the crisis.
“What is happening is a direct result of the conniving politics of Western politicians and European bodies,” the ministry said in a statement.