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Ukraine President, Kyiv Protest Leaders Agree to Truce

Ukraine's president and the leaders of opposition protests convulsing the capital agreed late Wednesday on a truce, after the deadliest fighting in nearly three months left at least 26 dead and hundreds of others wounded.

A statement on the website of President Viktor Yanukovych announced the truce, saying it is aimed at "ending the bloodshed and stabilizing the situation...in the interests of social peace." It did not provide details.

But the Ukraine-Interfax news agency quotes opposition leader Vitali Klitschko as saying he has been assured there will be no further government attempts to storm the huge protest encampment in central Kyiv.

The truce announcement comes less than a day after riot police swarmed the makeshift camp, triggering hours of fighting and widespread condemnation from Western capitals.

Police and opposition representatives said many of the dead were killed by gunshots. Dozens of the injured were reported in serious condition. Nine of the dead were police officers.

The announcement also came hours after the president fired his army chief and the military announced 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 quote 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 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.

European Union foreign ministers have called an emergency meeting Thursday in Brussels, where they are expected to agree on sanctions against those found responsible for the violence.

The United States has issued a travel warning for its citizens in Ukraine, warning them to "maintain a low profile" while in the capital and be prepared to remain indoors at night.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden phoned Mr. Yanukovych late Tuesday to express "grave concern" about the violence, calling on the Ukrainian president to pull back security forces and exercise maximum restraint. Biden told Mr. Yanukovych his government bears "special responsibility" to resolve the crisis.

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.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned the deadly Ukraine protests as a "coup attempt." He denied claims President Vladimir 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.

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