Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
KIEV, Ukraine (NBC NEWS) -- Thousands of riot
police and protesters were in a tense standoff in Ukraine's capital on
Wednesday after the bloodiest day of violence in the country's tug of
war between Russia and the West.
At least 25 people were killed in Kiev on Tuesday - including 10 police officers - in what was the deadliest day since the Ukraine won its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The country's interim prime minister went as far as to describe the clashes as an attempted coup.
"This was not a
demonstration of democracy ... It is the manipulation of people's minds
and an attempt to seize power by force," interim Prime Minister Serhiy
Arbuzov told a government meeting watched by The Associated Press on
But European Union leaders called an emergency meeting to consider sanctions after what they called an "exessive use of force."
of the city have been in a state of near paralysis since November after
President Viktor Yanukovich ditched a deal with the European Union and
struck a loan scheme with Russia to float its ailing economy.
began peacefully last year but have been increasingly characterized by
smaller, more extreme elements - many aligned with the far-right - who
have clashed with riot police.
demonstrations started as a rejection of the Russia-leaning government
policies, protesters said they now seek to "oust a corrupt and brutal
regime," according to a post by the opposition-run "Euromaidan" Facebook
group on Wednesday morning.
violence shattered weeks of relative calm in the capital, sparked by
Russia's announcement it was ready to resume its loan package to the
Ukraine. Some in the opposition saw this as an indication that the two
countries had struck a deal and that the government was intent on
standing firm against the protesters.
The European Union said it was preparing targeted sanctions against those responsible for the violence.
"We have ... made it clear that the EU will respond to any deterioration on the ground," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement.
therefore expect that targeted measures against those responsible for
violence and use of excessive force can be agreed by our member states
as a matter of urgency.
vehicles and buildings, and threw stones and Molotov cocktails.
Authorities responded with rubber bullets and smoke grenades, often
while singing the Ukrainian national anthem, The Associated Press
Having given the
protesters an ultimatum to clear the streets, security forces descended
on the city's Independence Square - the iconic center of the protest
movement known as the "Euromadian" - parts of which were still ablaze
half of the 20,000 demonstrators who flooded the streets on Tuesday
heeded the call of former world champion boxer turned opposition leader
Vitali Klitschko to stand their ground.
Klitschko returned to the square afterward and urged the protesters to defend the camp.
"We will not go anywhere from here," Klitschko told the crowd. "This is an island of freedom and we will defend it," he said.
am not going to sit and wait while they kill me," said one protester,
32-year-old Anton Rybkovich. "I'm going to attack. The more force the
government uses, the more harsh our response will be."
a statement Wednesday, President Yanukovich maintained his call for a
peaceful resolution to the stand-off instead of violence.
am totally against a heavy-handed approach and the more so against
bloodshed," Yanukovich said. "I once again call the leaders of the
opposition, who claim that they aim for a peace settlement, to separate
themselves from the radical forces which provoke bloodshed and clashes
with law enforcement services."
voices abroad, such as the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, appeared
to side with the protesters. Tusk told his parliament on Wednesday that
he would be pressing E.U. leaders to impose sanctions on the Ukrainian
government following the deadly clashes.
will today hold talks with the leaders of the biggest EU countries and
institutions, and persuade them to impose sanctions - personal and
financial," Tusk said, according to Reuters. "I hope that such a stance
from Poland will help the EU as a whole in taking fast decisions."
Vice President Joe Biden called Yanukovich on Tuesday, urging him to pull back government forces and exercise maximum restraint, the White House said.
Paris, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement condemning the
violence and urging the Ukrainian government and protesters to take
steps to de-escalate the situation through dialogue.
than issuing ultimatums, the government of Ukraine should immediately
resume talks with senior opposition leaders and support dialogue through
Ukraine's democratic institutions," Kerry said. "We also call on
protesters to refrain from violence of any kind; Ukraine's deep
divisions will not be healed by allowing more innocent blood to be
Maria Stromova of NBC News contributed to this report from Moscow. Alexander Smith reported from London. Photo Courtesy of Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY.