Witnesses in the Ukrainian capital say at least 33 people were killed in clashes that erupted between anti-government protesters and police Thursday, hours after President Viktor Yanukovych announced a truce with opposition leaders.
Doctors working with protesters claimed that more than 70 people died in Thursday's violence. Some of those killed were reportedly shot by government snipers.
Ukraine's Interior Ministry, meanwhile, reported that three police officers were killed Thursday. It said more than 50 police personnel had been hospitalized during the day, 30 of them with gunshot wounds. The ministry also said that protesters had captured 67 policemen.
Earlier this week, clashes that erupted after riot police swarmed a makeshift protest camp in Kyiv left 28 people dead.
The White House said in a statement Thursday that it was "outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people." It called on President Yanukovych "to immediately withdraw his security forces from downtown Kyiv and to respect the right of peaceful protest," while urging protesters to "express themselves peacefully.
The White House also urged the Ukrainian military "not to get involved in a conflict that can and should be resolved by political means."
Ukraine's Interior Ministry said Thursday that police had been issued "combat weapons" to protect citizens and property from attacks, and for self-defense.
It called on "extremists" among the protesters to hand over their weapons and called on opposition leaders to "disassociate themselves" from "the radicals."
The violence came as three European Union foreign ministers met with President Yanukovych in Kyiv to discuss the crisis. Earlier reports said the talks were called off due to the renewed violence. The EU held an emergency meeting in Brussels later Thursday to discuss possible sanctions against those responsible for the unrest.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking Wednesday in Paris alongside French President Francois Hollande, called for "quick and targeted sanctions" against those responsible for the violence.
President Yanukovych and the leaders of anti-government protests had agreed on a truce Wednesday. A statement on President Viktor Yanukovych's website said it is aimed at "ending the bloodshed and stabilizing the situation...in the interests of social peace." It did not provide details.
Hours before the truce was announced, the president fired his army chief and Ukraine's military declared a nationwide crackdown on what it called "extremist groups." Mr. Yanukovych -- the target of the protests -- offered no explanation for the dismissal.
In announcing the "anti-terrorist" operation, the Interior Ministry said protesters elsewhere in the country had overrun government arms depots and seized weapons and munitions. Local media quoted officials as saying they fear those stockpiles are being transported to the capital for use by protesters trying to force Mr. Yanukovych from power.
Security service chief Oleksandr Yakimenko said Wednesday that municipal buildings, security offices and arms depots had been raided around the country. He said 1,500 firearms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition had wound up "in the hands of criminals" over the previous 24 hours.
Anti-government protests have been building for weeks, with activists calling for Mr. Yanukovych's ouster after he backed away from a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
In Moscow, the Kremlin announced that President Vladimir Putin was sending his human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, to Ukraine to mediate talks between President Yanukovych and the opposition. According to the Kremlin, the step was taken at the Ukrainian president's request.
On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned the deadly Ukraine protests as a "coup attempt." He denied claims President Putin was giving advice to Ukraine's president on how to handle the crisis and reiterated Moscow would not interfere with Ukraine's internal affairs.