(Photo: REUTERS/Olga Yakimovich)
Ukraine witnessed its bloodiest day since its independence after clashes between protesters seeking European-style democracy and the government that favors Russia killed dozens and injured hundreds in Kiev on Tuesday, prompting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to express concerns and urge restraint.
At least 25 people, including nine police officers, were killed and about 1,000 others were injured as police carrying stun grenades and water cannons stormed a protest encampment at the Maidan, or Independence Square, in Kiev Tuesday, according to Kiev Post.
Police cracked down on the protesters after the country's Interior Ministry warned all women and children to leave the area by that evening. "If by 6 p.m. the lawlessness doesn't cease, we shall be forced to use all legal means to bring order," the ministry said.
Police beat more than 25 journalists who were there to cover the violence. At least 100 police officers were also injured, including dozens from gunshot wounds.
Protests emerged amid talks between both sides and after the parliament of the former Soviet Union nation on Tuesday rejected demands to limit the powers of President Viktor Yanukovych, who is the target of the demonstrations.
Biden spoke to President Yanukovych on the phone late Tuesday, expressing "grave concern" about the violence, and saying "the government bears special responsibility to deescalate the situation," according to The Associated Press.
Biden said Ukraine should withdraw security forces and exercise maximum restraint.
The U.S. State Department also issued a travel advisory, stating that "U.S. citizens are urged to maintain a low profile and to remain indoors at night while clashes continue."
However, Yanukovych blamed the opposition and the protesters for the violence. "The leaders of the opposition have disregarded the principle of democracy according to which we obtain power through elections and not on the street ... they have crossed the limits by calling for people to take up arms," he said in an address to the nation Wednesday. "It is a flagrant violation of the law and those who are responsible will face justice."
Ukraine's general prosecutor, Viktor Pshonka, has warned protesters. "For everyone who suffered, for every burned car and broken window, the organizers of the mass disturbances will carry responsibility," he was quoted as saying. "The general prosecutor's office will demand the most severe punishment for those who pushed people into today's action, and those who organized and managed them."
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko has requested that only men stay at the Independence Square. "I would like to ask women and children to leave Maidan. It may happen that Maidan will be forcefully dispersed," he said.
Klitschko said he was in talks with the president and law enforcement officers to stop the standoff. "I'm urging Interior Ministry employees, riot police officers and those who are giving the orders to stop the bloodshed. We'll do everything to stop the bloodshed."
The president's spokeswoman, Hanna Herman, stated that negotiations can proceed only after the violence stops, according to Radio Liberty. "Negotiations will only take place when the violent methods stop, when the opposition gets its armed people off the street and when calm comes back to the country. Then it will be necessary to sit at the negotiating table."
Anti-government demonstrations began last November to demand the nation's closer European integration, after the administration suspended preparations for signing an Association Agreement and a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, in favor of closer economic relations with Russia.
Before Tuesday's clashes, dozens had been killed in clashes.