Riot police have fired live rounds at protesters in an explosion of violence in Kiev that has left more than 60 people dead.
Bullet-riddled bodies were scattered amid smouldering debris after masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails forced gun-toting police from the capital’s Independence Square – the epicentre of the increasingly bloody revolt against President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian rule.
Opposition medics said more than 60 protesters had been shot dead by police on Thursday alone.
Kiev authorities put the total toll from three days of violence at 67.
Both sides accused each other of using snipers in a major escalation of the crisis sparked by Yanukovych’s rejection in November of an EU pact in favour of close ties with Moscow.
Three European Union foreign ministers held talks with the president and opposition leaders in Kiev to discuss a way out of the turmoil.
The White House meanwhile said it was “outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people”.
Faced with international outrage, Ukraine’s interior ministry said it reserved the right to use live munition “in self-defence”.
The ministry also accused “extremists” of seizing 67 of its troops at gunpoint and holding them hostage in one of buildings near the war-scarred square.
The shocking scale of bloodshed in a strategic nation that serves as a brittle diplomatic bridge between Russia and the West, has prompted EU officials to slap travel bans against Ukrainians responsible for ordering the use of force.
Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said an agreement was also reached at an emergency EU meeting in Brussels to impose asset freezes on Ukrainians with “blood on their hands”.
The United States has already put 20 top Ukrainian officials on a visa blacklist.
Ukraine’s former master Russia blasted the sanctions as “bullying” and said President Vladimir Putin was sending a representative to Kiev to act as a mediator in talks with the opposition.
The EU meanwhile pressed on with a diplomatic push to find a way out of the crisis, with one Western source saying they were encouraging Yanukovych to agree to a peace plan that would see the opposition enter the government with new powers.
Make your contribution to independent news
A donation of any size to InDaily goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. South Australia needs more than one voice to guide it forward, and we’d truly appreciate your contribution. Please click below to donate to InDaily.