Ukrainian police and protesters fought violently near the parliament building in Kyiv Tuesday, and reports say at least three demonstrators were killed.
A parliamentary deputy and medics working in first-aid centers run by the protesters confirmed the death toll. There was no detailed official account of casualties, but reports from the scene indicated well over 100 people had been injured - both protesters and policemen.
The heavy fighting broke out as police tried to block demonstrators marching on the parliament building in the Ukrainian capital. Hundreds of shield-carrying police set up a barricade of trucks and cheered when water cannon arrived to spray the demonstrators.
Protesters hurled stones and clubbed police, who fired smoke bombs, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The stun grenades reportedly were a factor in the protesters' deaths. Their bodies, lying on the ground behind police lines several hours after the clash, bore no visible signs of violence.
U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcast hours of video live from the scene, showing many of the clashes in detail.
Anti-government protests in Ukraine have been building for weeks, with activists calling for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych after he backed away from a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry reported "the atmosphere has worsened sharply in central Kyiv." In a statement Tuesday, Russian authorities blamed the violence on Western governments, accusing them of encouraging "radical forces" among the protesters.
On Monday, Russia said it will release an additional $2 billion to Ukraine to support its moribund economy, a move seen as strengthening President Yanukovych's bid to remain in power. The money is part of a $15 billion loan promised by Russia.
Weeks of protests in Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities have spawned widespread media coverage abroad and calls for more democracy in the former Soviet republic. German Chancellor Angela Merkel - a leading figure in the 28-member EU trade bloc - met Monday with two Ukrainian opposition leaders; boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko and Arseni Yatsenyuk.
Klitschko, writing ahead of the meeting in the German daily Bild, said the opposition was seeking EU support for sanctions against the Yanukovych government and EU help in curbing the powers of the Ukrainian president.
A Merkel spokesman was later quoted by Deutsche Welle as saying the chancellor voiced "sympathy for the legitimate concerns of the Ukrainian people." But he said Ms. Merkel did not agree with calls for sanctions at this time.
EU and U.S. officials have repeatedly said they are working with the International Monetary Fund on details of an aid package that analysts have described as rivaling or exceeding the Russian bailout deal. But so far no concrete offers have been made public.