More than 60 protesters died from gunshot wounds on Thursday in fresh clashes between thousands of demonstrators and heavily-armed riot police in the heart of Kiev, a medic who works with the opposition said.
"More than 60 protesters died today. They all have gunshot wounds," the EuroMiadan Medical Center coordinator Svyatoslav Khanenko told Agence France Presse.
Kiev authorities said 67 people were killed in the riot that first broke out on Tuesday.
"Sixty-seven bodies had been delivered to the forensics bureau" by Thursday afternoon, the Ukrainian city administration said in a statement that provided the highest official casualty figure from the violence to date.
Ukraine's police force said Thursday that it used live munitions in self-defense during the clashes.
"For the purpose of preserving the lives and well-being of law enforcement officials, a decision was taken ... to use weapons in self defense," the interior ministry said, adding that its staff "have the right to use firearms" if their lives or well-being are threatened.
The Ministry of Interior also revealed that protesters have "seized" 67 police, adding that it reserved the right to use firepower to free them.
"Radical extremists have seized 67 interior ministry servicemen," the ministry said in a statement. "Law enforcement officials can resort to all legal means (to secure their release), including the use of arms."
Also on Thursday, Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych discussed a possible "roadmap" out of the country's political turmoil with three EU foreign ministers, said a German delegation source.
Yanukovych told EU envoys he was willing to hold early elections this year, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Thursday.
"Among other things it was agreed with Yanukovych that there was a willingness to hold early elections this year, both presidential and parliamentary," Tusk told reporters in Warsaw.
The envoys from Germany, France and Poland took the plan to opposition leaders and said they would stay in Kiev for more talks on Friday.
"After talks with the Opposition, on the way back to the President to help negotiations. Progress made but important differences remain," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, one of three EU envoys in Kiev, said on Twitter.
But the country's opposition leader Vitali Klitschko and a French diplomatic source said no deal has yet been reached to end the spiral of violence currently rocking Ukraine.
The source close to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius -- who is currently in Kiev -- said there was "no agreement for the moment" despite hours of talks with Yanukovych. Fabius and his Polish and German counterparts are due to meet him again imminently, the source added.
They had been due to return to Brussels on Thursday for a meeting to discuss sanctions against the Ukrainian government over the bloody escalation in the three-months-old standoff.
In over four hours of talks in Kiev, the foreign ministers and embattled Yanukovych discussed "ideas for a roadmap" toward a peaceful solution, the German delegation source said.
Neither Yanukovych nor the opposition had so far given their formal consent to the proposals, the source said.
A French diplomatic source said the three ministers had gone to Kiev with "some ideas" - including to try to "bring a halt" to the violence, start real negotiations, revise the constitution in a more democratic direction and hold early elections.
On this basis, "a form of mediation is taking place," added the source.
Sikorski earlier said on Twitter that the three would also hold talks with the opposition "so as to test proposed agreement", without elaborating.
In a last-minute change of plan, the ministers -- France's Fabius, Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Poland's Sikorski -- stayed on in Kiev rather than fly to Brussels to join their EU colleagues.
Diplomats told AFP that the three ministers, whose report on events in Kiev was keenly awaited by the their 25 European Union counterparts, would communicate with them by phone or video link.
The EU ministers were meeting to consider sanctions, including a possible arms embargo against Ukraine.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who convened the bloc's top diplomats for the crisis meeting, said she had spoken to the three ministers and would brief their colleagues in Brussels.
Russia said Thursday it is sending a representative to Kiev at the request of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to act as a mediator in talks with the opposition.
Yanukovych called Russian President Vladimir Putin and "proposed that the Russian leader send to Kiev a Russian representative to participate as a mediator in the talks with the opposition," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.
"Putin has decided to charge the human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin with this mission," he said.
Lukin advises Putin on human rights and has criticized some court decisions, such as the jailing of Pussy Riot members.
Peskov said that Lukin, a former ambassador to the United States and opposition politician, had "very rich diplomatic experience" and "commanded authority among human rights campaigners."
Lukin had been due to stand down this month after 10 years in the position.
Meanwhile, the crackdown by the authorities has triggered a storm of condemnation from the West and a new war of words with Moscow that carried the diplomatic echoes of the Cold War.
The U.S. State Department announced it was imposing visa bans on about 20 senior Ukrainian officials "complicit in or responsible for ordering or otherwise directing human rights abuses".
The European Union also agreed to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on Ukrainians with "blood on their hands."
Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said after Ukraine crisis talks in Brussels with her EU counterparts that the sanctions would be imposed "very rapidly in the next hours."
She said EU nations also agreed to offer medical assistance and visas to the injured and to dissidents.
An EU diplomat said the number of people on the list however "will depend on developments on the ground".
But there will be sanctions, said the source. "There was a political commitment to sanctions" agreed by foreign ministers from the 28-nation bloc.
Work on establishing a list of people deemed responsible for human rights violations, violence and excessive use of force would start Friday, the source said.
France said ahead of the meeting that sanctions would be prepared specifically against those responsible for the violence.
Moscow meanwhile has issued a string of outraged comments condemning both the protesters and the West.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned threatened sanctions against Ukrainian officials as an "attempt at bullying."
"The possibility of sanctions is nothing but an attempt at bullying," Lavrov said during a news conference in Baghdad, in remarks translated from Russian into Arabic.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told Russia's cabinet that Moscow intended to follow through on its commitment to issue the next tranche of a $15 billion bailout that Putin and Yanukovych agreed shortly after Kiev rejected the EU pact.
But Medvedev said Moscow needs "partners who are in good shape and for the authorities that work in Ukraine to be legitimate and effective."
Lavrov accused Ukrainian "extremists and hardliners" of seeking to spark a civil war.
Moscow supports negotiations between Ukrainian authorities and the opposition, so they can try to overcome "this crisis and together fight extremists and hardliners who are trying to provoke a civil war," Lavrov said, in remarks translated from Russian into Arabic.
Ukraine's brittle truce was shattered on Thursday in fierce clashes between baton-wielding protesters and riot police that claimed at least dozens of lives just as EU envoys were holding crisis talks with the embattled president.
Bodies of anti-government demonstrators lay amid smoldering debris after masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and stones forced gun-toting police from Kiev's iconic Independence Square -- the epicenter of the ex-Soviet country's three-month-old crisis.
The retreating police unleashed a hail of rubber bullets on protesters as plumes of acrid smoke billowed into the air amid the explosions of stun grenades.
The lobby of the Ukrainian hotel overlooking the square was turned into an impromptu morgue. Bodies of seven dead protesters lay side by side under white sheets on the marble floor in front of the reception desk.
An AFP photographer saw spent live cartridge shells littering the ground on the square. It was unclear who had used the ammunition.
The main government building nearby was evacuated while lawmakers ended a session of parliament early after the violence.
Ukraine's three main opposition leaders called the unrest a "planned provocation" by the pro-Russian government while Moscow blamed it on "extremists and hardliners" who were bent on sparking a civil war.
The clashes left in tatters a truce that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had called late Wednesday in response to a spurt of violence that killed more than two dozen people in less than two days.
Ukraine's crisis was initially ignited by Yanukovych's shock decision in November to ditch an historic EU trade and political association agreement in favor of closer ties with Kiev's historic masters in the Kremlin.
But it has since evolved into a much broader anti-government movement that has swept through both the pro-Western west of the country as well as parts of its more Russified east and exposed the deep historical fault lines between the two.
Yanukovych had appeared determined Wednesday to end the crisis by force after the country's security services announced plans to launch a sweeping "anti-terror" operation.
He also sacked the army's top general -- a powerful figure lauded by the opposition for refusing to back the use of force against those who had come out on the street.
But he then received three top protest leaders and told them he would take no immediate action against those who have taken to the streets against his rule.
The president was dealt a further embarrassing blow when Kiev mayor Volodymyr Makeyenko resigned Thursday from the ruling Regions Party in protest at the "tragedy" of the unrest.
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