Ukraine Protests Settle Into Tense Peace As President’s Backers Abandon Him

UPDATE 2:15 AM EST: As the Ukraine protests remained in a high-tension stalemate, President Viktor Yunakovych announced Friday morning that he had reached a “deal” to end the crisis after talks that lasted through the night, according to a BBC report. No details of the deal were announced and opposition leaders offered no similar announcement or confirmation.

Main Article: The Ukraine protests settled into tense calm Thursday night as opposition demonstrators guarded the barricades around Maidan, or Independence Square, the protesters’ stronghold in the center of Kiev, the Ukraine capital, on alert for attacks from police and civilian gangs loyal to President Viktor Yanukovych.

But as his political support fell apart, Yanukovych appeared increasingly willing to find a way out of the bloodshed, opening a path to the early elections that a leading opposition figure says are the only solution to the crisis. Yakunovych met with European foreign ministers through the night until 7:20 am local time.

While government officials continued to blame protesters for Thursday’s renewed violence following the failed truce of Wednesday night, there were reports that the opposition had taken dozens of police officers hostage.

But a visit by a CNN news crew to site where the reported hostages were said to be held turned up nothing. Human rights workers said that the officers had been released, while several people saying there were police appeared on television to say they had switched to the opposition side of the Ukraine protests voluntarily.

The shaky pause in the violence surrounding the Ukraine protests followed a blood-soaked day in which by varying counts, between 75 and 100 people were killed and hundreds more wounded, many reportedly by snipers who periodically fired into Independence Square, picking off the anti-government protesters.

MAKESHIFT MEMORIAL TO THE DEAD

Kiev authorities, however, stated the day’s death toll to be 39.

A makeshift morgue took shape on a street in central Kiev, where by late Thursday night 10 corpses lay neatly arranged each bearing distinctive head wounds from one or two shots that appeared be fired from some distance away.

“It was a sniper,” Dr. Vasyl Lukach, a physician at the site, told a reporter for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. “They all have one or two bullets each in the head or in the neck. It was a professional.”

The sniper killings and escalation of attacks by police against the protesters appeared, however, to be backfiring politically on Yanukovych, as the day saw 12 political supporters publicly break with the Ukraine president, including the mayor of Kiev himself.

European Union foreign ministers said Thursday their countries would begin imposing sanctions on Ukraine, freezing assets and denying visas.

Seemingly in response to the crumbling of his political support, Yakunovych met with several of those European foreign ministers and told them he would be open to calling a snap election if that was the only way to end the Ukraine protests and the carnage in Kiev.

That move is exactly what opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, the retired world heavyweight boxing champion who aspires to be president of his native country, demanded Thursday.

“Today is a crucial day,” said Klitschko in his statement.

“Bloodshed continues. Authorities resort to bloody provocations in plain view of the world. Armed criminals and titushki were unleashed to beat people to show that there is some conflict among people. But these plans are doomed!”

“Titushki” are secret government death squads made up of criminal gangs.

Calling snap elections “the only way to stop the violence,” the 42-year-old, pro-Western ex-boxer implored Ukranian citizens to “unite to protect your life, health and property.”

But perhaps the most damaging political development of the day for Yanukovych came when Russian leader Vladimir Putin also spoke with European leaders about the need for their countries as well as the United States to join in to solve the crisis set off by the Ukraine protests.

The cooperative tone was a new stance for Putin, who has staunchly backed Yakunovych until today. It was Putin’s offer to prop up Ukraine’s economy with a $15 billion loan that led Yakunovych to scrap a popular trade pact with Europe, a move that ignited the initial Ukraine protests in November of last year.