KIEV, Ukraine (USA TODAY) - Renewed clashes are taking place between protesters and Ukrainian riot police just hours after the ex-Soviet republic saw the worst violence since independence, and as the European Union said it would hold "extraordinary" talks on the crisis amid a deteriorating situation that has killed at least 25 people.
Following failed talks overnight, Kiev's Independence Square was quieter Wednesday even as the opposition moved to retake the square after thousands of police armed with stun grenades and water cannons rushed at protesters in a camp Tuesday.
That standoff led to stories of individual brutality including that of Vyacheslav Veremiy, a journalist with daily Ukrainian newspaper Vesti. He was returning home from the newsroom around 2 a.m. Wednesday when his taxi nearing a police station was attacked by a group of armed thugs.
The driver and a fellow passenger were beaten. Veremiy was pulled out of the car and shot in the chest. He died shortly after.
Veremiy is one of the victims of roving bands of paid government "helpers" directed to cause disorder, who are currently roaming the streets with bats and guns, according to witnesses of the violence.
European leaders meanwhile have been watching with concern as the crisis on their doorstep unfolds and will hold a special meeting to address the crisis in Brussels on Thursday afternoon.
"Whoever is responsible for decisions that lead to bloodshed in the center of Kiev or elsewhere in Ukraine will need to consider that Europe's previous reluctance for sanctions must be rethought," he said.France's President Francois Hollande says he is "favorable toward EU sanctions," against Ukraine, French news site France 24 reported. Even Germany, which had previously rejected calls for sanctions, reconsidered with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier saying that following the escalation in violence that sanctions could be on the table.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called for EU sanctions against Ukraine in a special session of the Polish parliament, referring to the violence next door as the beginning of "a civil war."
Even so, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has blamed opposition leaders for the eruption of violence in central Kiev that left at least 25 people dead, seen scores more hospitalized and that has threatened to rekindle tensions between the East and West.
In a statement published online early Wednesday, President Yanukovych said that he had already made several attempts to compromise, but that opposition leaders "crossed a line when they called people to arms."
President Yanukovych said opposition leaders had to "draw a boundary between themselves and radical forces," or else "acknowledge that they are supporting radicals. Then the conversation … will already be of a different kind."
There are few details, but Ukraine's security services say an investigation has been launched into some politicians for attempting a coup.
Anti-government protesters protect themselves with shields during clashes with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, on Feb. 19.(Photo11: Sergei Chuzavkov, AP)
The Ukrainian Health Ministry reports that 241 have been hospitalized, including 79 policemen and 5 journalists, in the worst violence in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine's capital in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the European Union.
In a statement, European Commission President Manuel Barroso expressed "shock and utter dismay" at the violence in Ukraine while Russian President Vladimir Putin's press secretary told Reuters that his nation continue with a policy of non-intervention in Ukraine.
"What is happening is a direct result of the conniving politics of Western politicians and European bodies,'' Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement.
Washington has urged the Ukraine government to resume peaceful dialogue with the opposition. On Tuesday, the State Department issued a travel advisory for U.S. citizens in Ukraine.
The government, meanwhile, told opposition leaders to get everyone "to go home" and have moved to put the center of the city on lockdown: They shut the subway, set up checkpoints, closed schools and have asked business owners to keep their doors shut. They also took the opposition broadcaster, Channel 5 off the air.
Protesters have threatened to bring hundreds of thousands into the streets, and are pleading with the United States and Europe to confront Moscow over what they say is a usurpation of their fledgling democracy orchestrated by President Putin.
"All the world is watching Ukraine," opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion, said. "I can't imagine working with Yanukovych's government now."