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Ukraine - lives hang in the balance

Protesters advanced on police lines in the heart of the Ukrainian capital on Thursday, prompting government snipers to shoot back and kill scores of people in the country's deadliest day since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago.

The European Union imposed sanctions on those deemed responsible for the violence, and three EU foreign ministers held a long day of talks in Kyiv with both embattled President Viktor Yanukovych and leaders of the protests seeking his ouster. But it's increasingly unclear whether either side has the will or ability to compromise.

Yanukovych and the opposition protesters are locked in a battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country — mostly in its western cities — are in open revolt against Yanukovych's central government, while many in eastern Ukraine back the president and favour strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.

Protesters across the country are also upset over corruption in Ukraine, the lack of democratic rights and the country's ailing economy, which just barely avoided bankruptcy with a $15 billion aid infusion from Russia.

Despite the violence, defiant protesters seemed determined to continue their push for Yanukovych's resignation and early presidential and parliamentary elections. People streamed toward the square Thursday afternoon as other protesters hurled wood, refuse and tires on barricades.

"The price of freedom is too high. But Ukrainians are paying it," said Viktor Danilyuk, a 30-year-old protester. "We have no choice. The government isn't hearing us."

In an effort to defuse the situation, the national parliament late Thursday passed a measure that would prohibit an "anti-terrorist operation" threatened by Yanukovych to restore order, and called for all Interior Ministry troops to return to their bases. But it was unclear how binding the move would be. Presidential adviser Marina Stavnichuk was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the measure goes into effect immediately, but that a mechanism for carrying it out would have to be developed by the president's office and the Interior Ministry.

At least 101 people have died this week in the clashes in Kyiv, according to protesters and Ukrainian authorities, a sharp reversal in three months of mostly peaceful protests. Now neither side appears willing to compromise.

 

The Canadian Press

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