By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times
KIEV, Ukraine — As the death toll in Kiev’s violent political confrontation rose dramatically to at least 25 Wednesday, Ukraine’s embattled President Victor Yanukovich laid blame for the violence on protest leaders and threatened a tough response.
Pointing to continued clashes in Kiev’s Independence Square Wednesday morning, Yanukovich accused the opposition of a coup attempt.
“Without any mandate from the people, acting illegally and violating the constitution of Ukraine these, so to say, politicians tried to seize power by resorting to pogroms, arsons and murders,” Yanukovich said in a televised speech. “They crossed the line when they called upon the people to take up arms. This is a flagrant violation of law.”
Yanukovich called upon the leaders of the opposition to immediately dissociate themselves from the radical forces. “In case they don’t want to go, they must admit that they support the radicals,” he said. “In this case we will deal with them in a different way.”
The speech came in the wake of Yanukovich’s meeting with opposition leaders Wednesday.
Meanwhile, several thousand riot police were still trying to storm the burning barricades of the protesters’ tent camp in Independence Square Wednesday morning. Police shot teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at the protesters who responded in kind by hurling cobblestones and Molotov cocktails at police. Police also used powerful water cannons, aiming them at protesters on top of barricades. Both sides accused the other of using live ammunition.
“Given the character of wounds on the slain civilians and also the types of weapons which were seized (from protesters) we can suggest that this bodily damage could have been caused by aggressively inclined protesters themselves,” said a statement published Wednesday on the official website of Ukraine’s Interior Ministry.
Opposition leaders showed their frustration after meeting with Yankovich.
“In my opinion, the government must immediately withdraw troops and put an end to the bloody conflict because people are dying,” protest leader and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said in a statement published on his UDAR party’s website. “How can we hold talks while blood is being shed? Unfortunately (Yanukovich) has no understanding of the situation.”
By Wednesday morning, hospitals and clinics in Ukraine’s capital were filled with several hundred injured on both sides.