KIEV: Ukraine’s embattled president was on Thursday to hold crisis talks with European Union (EU) foreign ministers after calling a “truce” following the deadliest clashes in the ex-Soviet country’s three-month crisis.
United States President Ba–rack Obama cautiously wel–comed the apparent effort to defuse the crisis as thousands of helmeted protesters steeled themselves for new clashes with riot police on Kiev’s flame-engulfed main square.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych proposed the start of direct talks with the opposition after meeting three top anti-government lawmakers less than a block from the site of the deadliest unrest.
“The sides announced a truce and the start of a negotiations process aimed at ending the bloodshed [and]stabilizing the situation in the country for the benefit of civil peace,” Yanukovych said in a statement posted after talks that included protest leader Vitali Klitschko.
But the scenes playing out in the heart of Kiev suggested a war zone that was being reinforced by both sides as they prepare for a new fight following a bout of deadliest violence in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.
Pungent smoke from car tyres rose over the capital’s iconic Independence Square hours after Yanukovych’s talks offer as determined pro-Western protesters lobbied Molotov cocktails at troops who fired back tear gas and stun grande over burning barricades.
The violence that erupted into apocalyptic scenes Tuesday as police and protesters battled in Kiev’s historic centre came after three months of mass protests in Ukraine that have also pitted Russia and the West in an increasingly bitter war of words.
The Ukrainian health ministry on Thursday morning raised the death toll from the unrest to 28 from 26. It added that 287 people remained hospitalized.
The crisis was initially ignited by Yanukovych’s shock decision in November to ditch an historic EU trade and political asso–ciation agreement in favor of closer ties with Kiev’s historic masters in the Kremlin.
But it has since evolved into a much broader anti-government movement that has swept through both the pro-Western west of the country as well as parts of its more Russified east.
It has also put Moscow and the West into a Cold War-era confrontation over the future direction of the sprawling country of 46 million that is sandwiched between the EU and Russia.