KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Police in Ukraine's capital on Wednesday tore down protester barricades and chased demonstrators away from the site of violent clashes, hours after two protesters died after being shot, the first violent deaths in protests that are likely to drastically escalate the political crisis that has gripped Ukraine since late November.
Another protester also died Wednesday after falling from a high point near the clashes, said the head of the protesters' volunteer medical corps.
Helmeted riot police moved in on hundreds of protesters Wednesday afternoon, beating and firing shots at some and sending people running.
The police were driving demonstrators down a hill toward the main protest site on Independence Square, where demonstrators have set up an extensive tent camp and rallied around the clock. There was no immediate police move on the main camp.
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 Oleh Musiy, coordinator of the protesters' medical corps, told The Associated Press the two shooting victims' 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.
The mass protests in Kiev, the capital, erupted after Yanukovych spurned a pact with the European Union in favor of close ties with Russia, which offered him a $15 billion bailout. Seeing the government ignore their demands and opposition leaders unable to present a coherent plan or even select a single leader, radical protesters have clashed with riot police in Kiev since Sunday, hurling stones and fire bombs at police and getting hit with tear gas and rubber bullets in return. While hundreds have been injured in recent days, the first deaths were likely to further escalate the crisis.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the West of instigating the protests and some EU politicians of joining them.
Three main opposition parties issued a statement blaming Yanukovych and his staunch ally Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko 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.