KIEV, Ukraine -- Fearing that a call for a truce was a ruse, protesters tossed firebombs and advanced upon police lines Thursday in Ukraine's embattled capital. Government snipers shot back and the almost-medieval melee that ensued left as many as 100 people dead and hundreds injured.The government said that at least 67 people died in Thursday's clashes, but the medical service chief in Kiev's Independence Square told CBS News that between 80 and 100 have died.
Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes Thursday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Trying to protect themselves with shields, teams of protesters carried bodies away on sheets of plastic or on planks of wood.CBS News correspondent Holly Williams reports that protesters were also seen leading away a dozen police officers they'd captured. The protesters promised not to harm them.
An opposition lawmaker said they were being held in Kiev's occupied city hall.
President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition protesters who demand his resignation are locked in an epic battle over the identity of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West. Parts of the country - mostly in its western cities - are in open revolt against Yanukovych's central government, while many in eastern Ukraine favor strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.Now neither side appears 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.
On the front lines Wednesday, Yuri Pistorah told CBS News his friend was killed in Tuesday's violence.
"He was my classmate, and we grew up together, and he was shot like a dog here. He had no weapons, and he died for nothing," Pistorah told Williams.
Asked if the fight was worth dying for, he said, "It's better to be free than to live like this, you know? I don't want to be a slave."
Thursday was the deadliest day yet at the sprawling protest camp on Independence Square, also called the Maidan. Video footage showed snipers shooting at protesters in Kiev and at least one sniper wearing a Ukraine riot police uniform.
Dr. Oleh Musiy, the top medical coordinator for the protesters, told the AP that over 500 protesters were injured Thursday. He said the death toll from the day's clashes could well rise further.
In addition, one policeman was killed Thursday and 28 suffered gunshot wounds, Interior Ministry spokesman Serhiy Burlakov told the AP.Saying the U.S. was outraged by the violence, President Obama issued a statement urging Yanukovych to withdraw his forces from downtown Kiev immediately. The U.S. is considering the possibility of joining any EU sanctions against those responsible for the violence.
Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino told reporters Thursday that EU foreign ministers agreed to move ahead with sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes.
Speaking as she left an emergency gathering in Brussels, Bonino said the position had been agreed with the French, German and Polish foreign ministers, who were in Kiev negotiating with Yanukovich.
"The decision is to proceed very rapidly, in the next hours, to a visa ban and asset freeze on those who have committed the violence," she told reporters.A truce announced late Wednesday appeared to have little credibility among hardcore protesters. One camp commander, Oleh Mykhnyuk, told the AP even after the alleged truce, protesters still threw firebombs at riot police on the square. As the sun rose, police pulled back, the protesters followed them and police then began shooting at them, he said.
The Interior Ministry warned Kiev residents to stay indoors Thursday because of the "armed and aggressive mood of the people."
Yanukovych claimed Thursday that police were not armed and "all measures to stop bloodshed and confrontation are being taken." But the Interior Ministry later contradicted that, saying law enforcers would get weapons as part of an "anti-terrorist" operation.Some signs emerged that Yanukovych is losing loyalists. The chief of Kiev's city administration, Volodymyr Makeyenko, announced Thursday he was leaving Yanukovych's Party of Regions.
"We must be guided only by the interests of the people, this is our only chance to save people's lives," he said, adding he would continue to fulfill his duties as long as he had the people's trust.
Another influential member of the ruling party, Serhiy Tyhipko, said both Yanukovych and opposition leaders had "completely lost control of the situation."
"Their inaction is leading to the strengthening of opposition and human victims," the Interfax news agency reported.
The parliament building was evacuated Thursday because of fears that protesters would storm it, as were the government office and the Foreign Ministry buildings in Kiev. But parliament convened in the afternoon, with some pro-government lawmakers heeding the opposition's call to work out a solution to the crisis.
The latest street violence began Tuesday when protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of ignoring their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would once again limit the president's power.
Prior to the deaths Thursday, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people have died and 287 have been hospitalized this week. Protesters who have set up a medical facility in a downtown cathedral so that wounded colleagues would not be snatched away by police say the number of injured are significantly higher - possibly double or triple that.
The Caritas Ukraine aid group praised the protest medics but said many of the wounded will need long-term care, including prosthetics.
The clashes this week have been the most deadly since protests kicked off in November after Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. Russia then announced a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine, whose economy is in tatters.
The political jockeying for influence in Ukraine has continued. In Moscow, the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin was sending former ombudsman Vladimir Lukin to Ukraine as a mediator.
Ukraine's tattered economy and the country's endemic corruption are a sore point for many of the protesters.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will "try to do our best" to fulfill its financial obligations to Ukraine, but indicated Moscow would hold back on further bailout installments until the crisis is resolved.
"We need partners that are in good shape and a Ukrainian government that is legitimate and effective," he said.
At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Ukrainian alpine skier Bogdana Matsotska, 24, said she will not take part in Friday's women's slalom due to the developments in Kiev."As a protest against lawless actions made toward protesters, the lack of responsibility from the side of the president and his lackey government, we refuse further performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games," her father and coach, Oleg Matsotskyy, wrote in a Facebook post.