KIEV, Ukraine — Thick, dark smoke rose above the center of the Ukrainian capital amid the boom of police stun grenades Wednesday, as officers in riot gear sought to push demonstrators away from the city's main square after deadly clashes between police and protesters that left at least 25 people dead and hundreds injured and raised fears of a civil war.
After several hours of relative calm, confrontation flared up again Wednesday afternoon, with hundreds of police amassing on the edges of Independence Square, known as the Maidan, throwing stun grenades and using water cannons in a bid to disperse protesters. Thousands of activists armed with fire bombs and rocks held their ground, defending the square which has been a bastion and symbol for the demonstrators.
The violence Tuesday was the worst in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine's capital in a struggle over the identity of a nation divided in loyalties between Russia and the West, and the worst in the country's post-Soviet history. It prompted the European Union to threaten sanctions against Ukrainian officials responsible for the violence and triggered angry rebukes from Moscow, which accused the West of triggering the clashes by backing the opposition.
The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the EU in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued ever since, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.
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