News Wrap: Ukraine’s president announces truce after bloody battle in Kiev
GWEN IFILL: Ukraine’s pro-Russian president has announced a truce after a late-night meeting with the pro-European opposition. That follows Tuesday’s all-out battles and bloodshed in Kiev that left at least 26 dead and hundreds wounded.
Matt Frei of Independent Television News is in Kiev and reports on the day’s developments.
MATT FREI: Independence Square is a busy place today, humming with the solemn industry of an ant hill.
Last night, the trade union building, which had served as the headquarters of the revolution, was burnt down. Today, the wreck and its contents were already being recycled as building materials for the new set of barricades. Everything and anything will do, even a hairdresser’s chair.
Meanwhile, a poet with a keen eye on a career opportunity mounts the barricades to recite his latest ballad. But if all this looks like an epic set for a revolutionary nostalgia film, don’t be fooled. On the other side of the wall of smoke, the riot police don’t much care for poetry.
Kiev has been mainly quiet today, licking its wounds, but the unrest is spreading across the nation. This was Khmelnytskyi in Western Ukraine, demonstrators venting their rage on a government building. Suddenly, there’s automatic gunfire. A protester is shot, apparently in the head.
We have no idea if the woman survived or who was shooting, but it has become increasingly obvious that the unrest is getting more chaotic and that violence is being used by both sides. And that includes live ammunition for first time in this crisis.
Last night in Kiev, the police finally used armored vehicles to ram the barricades. The riot police emerged singed and bedraggled from the burnt-out wreckage. They too have suffered casualties, but not nearly as many as the protesters.
In Lviv in Western Ukraine, always a hotbed of anti-Russian and anti- government sentiment, protesters have gone one step further and even declared their independence. With his country and his authority disintegrating around him, President Yanukovych went on prime-time television to denounce the protesters as terrorists and to accuse the opposition leaders of attempting to stage a coup.
The front here line on Independence Square right in the center of Kiev has never looked this chaotic and messy. And the real question, especially after all the deaths last night, is whether this could now actually become a civil war.
So much in this country is divided, and that includes the orthodox church. The bells of St. Michael’s Cathedral, one of Ukraine’s most beautiful and important, are frantic in support of a revolution. The church itself has been transformed. St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kiev now a field hospital for the revolution. Think church turned E.R. The floor has become one giant hospital bed.
Outside, Independence Square burns once again, the stakes never higher, the outcome never clearer, the world never more worried that what happens in Kiev will not stay in Kiev.
GWEN IFILL: The violence drew widespread condemnation from world leaders and threats of sanctions. President Obama spoke in Toluca, Mexico, at a summit with the presidents of Mexico and Canada.
OBAMA: We expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence in dealing with peaceful protesters.
We have said that we also expect peaceful protesters to remain peaceful. And we will be monitoring very carefully the situation, recognizing that, along with our European partners and the international community, there will be consequences if people step over the line.
GWEN IFILL: Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone overnight with Yanukovych. The Kremlin said yesterday’s events amounted to an attempted coup.
In Venezuela, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez faced a first appearance in court on charges of inciting violence. Lopez has become the face of demonstrations calling for the ouster of socialist President Nicolas Maduro. He was taken into custody yesterday. We will have a full report on the situation in Venezuela later in the program.
A court in Thailand has ordered the government there to stop using force against the opposition. That follows clashes between riot police and protesters that killed five people yesterday. Thousands of demonstrators rallied today outside the temporary office of embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They waved flags and shouted slogans demanding her resignation.
At the Winter Olympics, a protest against Russian President Putin drew a violent response today in Sochi. Cossack militiamen with horsewhips beat and manhandled members of the punk group Pussy Riot as they tried to perform. At least one person was bloodied, but police made no arrests.
Later, the performance artists did manage to stage a show, and insisted they won’t be silenced.
MARIA ALEKHINA, Pussy Riot member (through interpreter): In the countries of Europe and the United States, there’s no real understanding of what is going on here in our country. There’s no security for those who express the civil political position. These people might be beaten. Some are raped at police stations, killed or put into jail regularly. Our goal is to tell the truth about that as loud as we can.
GWEN IFILL: As for the day’s results, if you plan to watch today’s competition later, you might want to tune out for a moment.
American skier Ted Ligety took the men’s giant slalom, the first American male to win two Olympic golds in alpine skiing. American teams also won two medals, the silver and bronze, in women’s bobsledding. And in men’s hockey, the U.S. beat the Czech Republic to advance to the semifinals Friday against Canada. Russia was knocked out of medal contention with a loss to Finland.
A new warning has gone out to airlines over possible bombs in shoes. The Department of Homeland Security issued the alert, but declined today to give details of the threat. It’s unclear if this is related to earlier warnings about explosives hidden in toothpaste or liquids on flights to Russia.
The Keystone oil pipeline has run into new trouble. A state judge in Nebraska today rejected a law that lets the governor condemn and claim land for the pipeline. Instead, a state agency will have to decide on a route. The pipeline still needs federal approval as well. It’s meant to carry oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.
The Federal Communications Commission will draw up new rules for an open Internet. A federal appeals court struck down a previous version. The rules were designed to ensure that broadband providers don’t discriminate or block content on the Web. Today, the FCC opted to try again, instead of appealing the court decision.
A major tech acquisition is in the works. Facebook has announced it will buy the mobile messaging service WhatsApp for up to $19 billion in cash and stock.
And on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 90 points to close at 16,040. The Nasdaq fell almost 35 points to close just below 4,238.
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