Street fighting between protesters and police in the centre of Kiev has continued despite a truce called between Ukraine's protest leaders and the president , as the number of people reported dead in the conflict rose to 28.
Smoke from burning barricades surrounding the protest camp rose above the Ukrainian capital, as several thousand protesters remained in the square and hurled petrol bombs and rocks at lines of police, who responded with stun grenades.
In a statement published early today, the Ukrainian health ministry said 28 people have died and 287 treated in hospital during two days of street violence. Protesters, who have set up a medical care facility in a city centre cathedral, say the real numbers are significantly higher.
The mood in the square was calmer than in the previous two days, the most deadly since protests kicked off three months ago after president Viktor Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia.
After Yanukovych shelved the agreement with the EU, Russia announced a multibillion-pound bailout for Ukraine, whose economy is in tatters.
The two sides are locked in a battle over the identity of this nation of 46 million, whose loyalties are divided between Russia and the West, and parts of the country are in open revolt against the central government.
The latest bout of street violence began on Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would limit the president's power - a key opposition demand. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.
Police responded by attacking the protest camp. Armed with water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets, police dismantled some barricades, but the protesters held their ground through the night, encircling the protest camp with new burning barricades of tires, furniture and debris.
The continuing violence in the square indicates that more radical elements among the protesters might be unwilling to observe the truce and may not be mollified by the prospects of negotiations. Although the initial weeks of protests were determinedly peaceful, radicals helped drive an outburst of clashes with police in January in which at least three people died, and the day of violence on Tuesday might have radicalised many more.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, who along with two other leaders met the president late yesterday to discuss a truce, said the president assured them that police would not storm the protesters' encampment in Kiev's Independence Square, according to the Interfax news agency.
A brief statement on the president's website did not give details of what terms a truce would entail or how it would be implemented. Nor did it specify how the negotiations would be conducted or give an indication of how they would be different from previous meetings of the president and the opposition leaders.
Political and diplomatic manoeuvring has continued, with Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic. Three EU foreign ministers - from Germany, France and Poland - were heading to Kiev to speak with both sides before an emergency EU meeting in Brussels to consider sanctions against those responsible for the recent violence.
President Barack Obama also stepped in to condemn the violence, warning "there will be consequences" for Ukraine if it continues. The US has raised the prospect of joining the EU to impose sanctions.
Russia's foreign ministry described the violence as an attempted coup and even used the phrase "brown revolution", an allusion to the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933. The ministry said Russia would use "all our influence to restore peace and calm".
Ukraine's top security agency accused protesters of seizing hundreds of firearms from its offices and announced a nationwide anti-terrorist operation to restore order.
Demonstrators, meanwhile, forced their way into the main post office in Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, after a nearby building they had previously occupied was burned down in fierce clashes with riot police. Thousands of activists armed with fire bombs and rocks had defended the square, a key symbol of the protests.
Before the truce the bad blood was running so high it fuelled fears the nation could be sliding toward a messy break-up. While most people in the country's western regions resent Yanukovych, he enjoys strong support in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, where many want strong ties with Russia.
Neither side had appeared willing to compromise, with the opposition insisting on Yanukovych's resignation and an early election and the president apparently prepared to fight until the end.
Opposition leader Oleh Lyashko warned that Yanukovych himself was in danger.
"Yanukovych, you will end like (Muammar) Gaddafi," he told thousands of angry protesters. "Either you, a parasite, will stop killing people or this fate will await you. Remember this, dictator!"
Before the truce announcement, Yanukovych blamed the protesters for the violence and said the opposition leaders "crossed a line when they called people to arms".
"I again call on the leaders of the opposition ... to draw a boundary between themselves and radical forces, which are provoking bloodshed and clashes with the security services," the president said in a statement. "If they don't want to leave - they should acknowledge that they are supporting radicals."
He called for a day of mourning today for the dead.