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Ukraine standoff continues amid shaky truce

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Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicenter of the country’s current unrest, in Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Ukraine’s protest leaders and the president they aim to oust called a truce Wednesday, just hours after the military raised fears of a widespread crackdown with a vow to defeat “terrorists” responsible for seizing weapons and burning down buildings. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicenter of the country’s current unrest, in Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Ukraine’s protest leaders and the president they aim to oust called a truce Wednesday, just hours after the military raised fears of a widespread crackdown with a vow to defeat “terrorists” responsible for seizing weapons and burning down buildings. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

An anti-government protester holds a crucifix as he prays at Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Ukraine’s protest leaders and the president they aim to oust called a truce Wednesday, just hours after the military raised fears of a widespread crackdown with a vow to defeat “terrorists” responsible for seizing weapons and burning down buildings. (AP Photo/ Marko Drobnjakovic)

An anti-government protester watches the burning fires at Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Ukraine’s protest leaders and the president they aim to oust called a truce Wednesday, just hours after the military raised fears of a widespread crackdown with a vow to defeat “terrorists” responsible for seizing weapons and burning down buildings. (AP Photo/ Marko Drobnjakovic)

An anti-government protester guards the barricade in front of riot police in Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicenter of the country’s current unrest, in Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Ukraine’s protest leaders and the president they aim to oust called a truce Wednesday, just hours after the military raised fears of a widespread crackdown with a vow to defeat “terrorists” responsible for seizing weapons and burning down buildings. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicenter of the country’s current unrest, in Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Ukraine’s protest leaders and the president they aim to oust called a truce Wednesday, just hours after the military raised fears of a widespread crackdown with a vow to defeat “terrorists” responsible for seizing weapons and burning down buildings. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Despite a truce called by Ukraine’s protest leaders and the president they aim to oust, street fighting between protesters and police in the center of Kiev continued on Thursday morning, as the number of people reported dead in the conflict rose to 28.

Smoke from burning barricades surrounding the protest camp rose above the Ukrainian capital, as several thousand protesters remained on the square and hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at lines of police, who responded with stun grenades. An Associated Press Television cameraman saw one unconscious protester being taken off the square in a stretcher, as well as numerous others with minor injuries.

In a statement published early on Thursday, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said 28 people have died and 287 have been hospitalized during the two days of street violence. Protesters, who have set up a medical care facility in a downtown cathedral, say the numbers are significantly higher.

The mood on the square Thursday was calmer than in the previous two days of violence, the most deadly since protests kicked off three months ago after President Viktor Yanukovych shelved an association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. After Yanukovych shelved the agreement with the EU, Russia announced a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine, whose economy is in tatters.

The two sides are locked in a battle over the identity of this nation of 46 million, whose loyalties are divided between Russia and the West, and parts of the country are in open revolt against the central government.

The latest bout of 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 limit the president’s power — a key opposition demand. Parliament, dominated by his supporters, was stalling on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.

Police responded by attacking the protest camp. Armed with water cannons, stun grenades and rubber bullets, police dismantled some barricades. But the protesters held their ground through the night, encircling the protest camp with new burning barricades of tires, furniture and debris.

The ongoing violence on the square Thursday indicates that more radical elements among the protesters may be unwilling to observe the truce and may not be mollified by the prospects of negotiations. Although the initial weeks of protests were determinedly peaceful, radicals helped drive an outburst of clashes with police in January in which at least three people died, and the day of violence on Tuesday may have radicalized many more.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, who along with two other leaders met with the president late on Wednesday to discuss a truce, said the president assured them that police would not storm the protesters’ encampment on Kiev’s Independence Square, according to the Interfax news agency.

A brief statement published on the president’s website late on Wednesday did not give details of what terms a truce would entail or how it would be implemented. Nor did it specify how the negotiations would be conducted or give an indication of how they would be different from previous meetings of the president and the opposition leaders.

Political and diplomatic maneuvering has continued, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic. Three EU foreign ministers — from Germany, France and Poland — were heading to Kiev on Thursday to speak with both sides before an emergency EU meeting in Brussels to consider sanctions against those responsible for the recent violence in Ukraine.

President Barack Obama also stepped

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