UK & World News

  • 19 February 2014, 20:25

Ukraine Army Chief Out After Deadly Clashes

Ukraine's president has replaced the head of the army after bloody clashes between protesters and riot police left at least 26 dead and hundreds injured.

Viktor Yanukovych has denounced the unrest, centred around Independence Square in the capital Kiev, as an attempted coup, and described those demanding his resignation as "terrorists".

He named former navy head Admiral Yury Ilyin to succeed Colonel General Volodymyr Zamana.

No reason was given for the change, although Mr Zamana was known to have disagreed with Mr Yanukovych when he first considered imposing a state of emergency.

The state security agency (SBU) has announced an "anti-terrorist operation" after buildings and arms and ammunition depots were seized by "extremist groups".

The SBU said more than 1,500 firearms had been seized during the unrest.

Soldiers could be involved in the "anti-terror operation", the Interfax news agency quoted the Defence Ministry as saying.

Anti-government protesters and riot police remain locked in a tense stand-off in Independence Square, where demonstrators have forced their way into the central post office.

The bloodshed in the capital, the worst since protests began in November, has caused concern around the world.

US President Barack Obama said "there will be consequences" if people step over the line.

Washington has urged the government to remove riot police from Independence Square, call a truce and talk with the opposition after the bloodiest day since the nation gained independence in 1991.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has labelled the violence "completely unacceptable".

David Cameron added: "President Yanukovych should be under no doubt that the world is watching his actions and that those responsible for violence will be held accountable."

The Ukrainian ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office in London to discuss its "extreme concern about events in Kiev", according to Sky sources.

The EU has called an extraordinary meeting of the bloc's 28 foreign ministers to discuss the violence and the possibility of sanctions on Thursday. Measures could include asset freezes and travel bans.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin and said they agreed to "continue to do everything so there is no further escalation of violence".

Nationwide demonstrations began in November after Mr Yanukovych agreed with Russian calls to pull out of a planned trade agreement with the EU. He instead agreed to accept a Kremlin bailout for the struggling economy.

Russia said it was sticking to its policy of non-intervention and denounced the unrest as an "attempted coup". Mr Putin spoke with Mr Yanukovych on Tuesday by telephone.

A statement from Russia's foreign ministry demanded opposition leaders "stop the bloodshed" and said it would use "all our influence" to bring peace to Ukraine.

A Ukrainian government source claims Moscow has delayed payment of $2bn (£1.1bn) in aid to Ukraine for "technical reasons".

Talks between the government and the opposition broke down on Tuesday night after Mr Yanukovych refused to call off the police assault on the protest camp by thousands of riot police using stun grenades and by water cannon.

Demonstrators responded by hurling petrol bombs, fireworks and stones.

Declaring Thursday a "day of mourning", Mr Yanukovych said he had made several attempts to compromise, but opposition leaders "crossed a line when they called people to arms".

He added opposition leaders had to "draw a boundary between themselves and radical forces" or "acknowledge that they are supporting radicals".

The unrest has spread to at least three cities in western Ukraine.

Police said protesters had seized regional administration headquarters in the cities of Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv.

Reports also claimed the main police station in Ternopil had been torched and there were clashes in Sumy.

:: Watch Sky News live on television, on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.

Advertisement