KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Three protesters have died in clashes with police in the Ukrainian capital Wednesday, according to medics on the site, a grim escalation of the country's two-month-long political crisis.
One man died in the hospital after falling from a high altitude and two others were killed by gunshot wounds, said Oleh Musiy, coordinator of the protesters' medical corps.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov charged that opposition leaders should be held responsible for the deaths and said that police at the site of the clashes did not have live ammunition. But Musiy told The Associated Press the wounds resembled those caused by live ammunition.
The U.S. Embassy said it was revoking the visas of some Ukrainian officials linked to the violence and was considering further action. The embassy would not name the officials, citing privacy laws.
Police moved in on the protesters near a government building Wednesday morning, after three days of vicious street fighting. They were able to dismantle some barricades set up by demonstrators, but were quickly pushed back after more protesters flocked to the site. By noon, thousands of protesters wearing hard hats and face masks were building new barricades from giant bags of snow meters (yards) away from police lines near burnt-out buses covered in ice.
The crisis began in late November after President Viktor Yanukovych stepped back from signing a long-anticipated cooperation deal with the European Union. That set off round-the-clock protests on Kiev's central square, where protesters have set up an extensive tent camp.
The tensions soared last week when Yanukovych pushed through harsh anti-protest legislation. The clashes are occurring several hundred meters away from the protest tent camp site. While hundreds have been injured in recent days, the first deaths were likely to further escalate the crisis.
Three main opposition parties issued a statement blaming Yanukovych and his staunch ally Interior Minister Vitali Zakharcheko for the deaths.
"The Interior Minister, the bloody murderer Zakharchenko, bears personal responsibility for this act of terror of dictatorship against citizens," the parties said in a statement.
Azarov said police at the scene were not responsible for the deaths and blamed the deaths on the protesters.
"As the Prime Minister of Ukraine, I officially state that the casualties, which unfortunately already exist, remain on the consciousness and responsibility of the organizers and certain participants of mass disturbances," Azarov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
The police move on the barricades came on the same day when much of international attention was focused in Switzerland, where peace talks aimed at ending Syria's war began Wednesday.