Ukraine: Yanukovych ordered snipers to shoot

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FILE – In this file photo taken on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, Olesya Zhukovska, left, is helped after being shot in her neck by a sniper bullet, in Independence Square, the epicenter of the country’s current unrest, Kiev, Ukraine. “I am dying”, Olesya Zhukovska, a 21-year-old volunteer medic, wrote on Twitter, minutes after she got shot in the neck by a sniper’s bullet as deadly clashes broke out in the center of the Ukrainian capital between protesters and police. The tweet, accompanied by a photo of her clutching her bleeding neck and being led away under fire, went viral, as social media users around the world presumed she had died and shared their grief and anger. Authorities in Ukraine said on Thursday that they have detained several members of an elite riot police unit on suspicion of shooting protesters during bloody anti-government clashes in February that left more than 100 dead. (AP Photo/Alexander Sherbakov, File)

FILE – In this file photo taken on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, Olesya Zhukovska, left, is helped after being shot in her neck by a sniper bullet, in Independence Square, the epicenter of the country’s current unrest, Kiev, Ukraine. “I am dying”, Olesya Zhukovska, a 21-year-old volunteer medic, wrote on Twitter, minutes after she got shot in the neck by a sniper’s bullet as deadly clashes broke out in the center of the Ukrainian capital between protesters and police. The tweet, accompanied by a photo of her clutching her bleeding neck and being led away under fire, went viral, as social media users around the world presumed she had died and shared their grief and anger. Authorities in Ukraine said on Thursday that they have detained several members of an elite riot police unit on suspicion of shooting protesters during bloody anti-government clashes in February that left more than 100 dead. (AP Photo/Alexander Sherbakov, File)

FILE – In this file photo taken on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, bodies of anti-government protesters killed in clashes with police lay at the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine. Authorities in Ukraine said on Thursday that they have detained several members of an elite riot police unit on suspicion of shooting protesters during bloody anti-government clashes in February that left more than 100 dead. (AP Photo/ Marko Drobnjakovic, File)

FILE – In this file photo taken on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, people look at a bullet hole in victim’s vest who was killed during a clash between riot police and protesters in Independence Square, the epicenter of the country’s current unrest in Kiev, Ukraine. Authorities in Ukraine said on Thursday that they have detained several members of an elite riot police unit on suspicion of shooting protesters during bloody anti-government clashes in February that left more than 100 dead. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych gestures during an interview with The Associated Press, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Yanukovych says the annexation of Crimea was a tragedy and he would have done everything possible to prevent it, had he remained in power. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s interim authorities accused the country’s ousted president of ordering snipers to open fire on protesters and getting help from Russian security agents to battle his own people — but their report Thursday provided no evidence directly linking him to the bloodbath in Kiev.

Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov also accused his predecessor of employing gangs of killers, kidnappers and thugs to terrorize and undermine the opposition during Ukraine’s tumultuous winter of discontent.

The preliminary findings revealed by Kiev’s new leadership examined the months of anti-government protests that culminated in the deaths in February over 100 people in Kiev, mostly protesters. That violence forced a truce between the opposition and the government, but that arrangement quickly collapsed, and President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia.

In the weeks since the bloodshed, Russia seized and then formally annexed Crimea, Ukraine’s strategic Black Sea peninsula, and the U.S. and the European Union slapped sanctions on those responsible, mainly Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

Also Thursday, Ukraine sent 16 senior officers to Bulgaria to join a NATO military exercise in a very public demonstration of cooperation between the alliance and the crisis-torn former Soviet republic. The drills involved over 700 troops from 13 NATO member and partner nations and were being held just a few hundred miles away from Crimea.

Speaking at a televised press conference in Kiev, Avakov accused Yanukovych’s government of ordering snipers to shoot at protesters from rooftops near the city’s central square, known as the Maidan. He said 17 people were killed from one location and one government sniper alone killed as many as eight people.

Ukrainian Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko charged that Yanukovych himself had ordered the killings.

“What was planned under the guise of an anti-terrorist operation, and which was in fact an operation of mass killing of people, took place under the immediate and direct leadership of former president Yanukovych,” Nalyvaichenko said.

He did not elaborate on how he knew this information, whether it was from witnesses, government documents, airline records or other sources.

Prosecutor General Oleh Makhnitsky said 12 members of an elite riot police unit named “Black Squadron” have been detained on suspicion of shooting protesters,

Nalyvaichenko also said there was evidence that Russia’s FSB security service assisted its Ukrainian counterparts’ attempts to suppress the anti-government protests. He said groups of FSB members were deployed at a Ukrainian security facility — 26 in December and six in January — and that they took part in planning and implementing anti-protest measures. He said the Russians even interrogated the Ukrainian security chief.

Nalyvaichenko contended that in late January, when peaceful protests turned into bloody street clashes with police, Russia sent planes to Kiev carrying massive amounts of explosive devices, arms and crowd control devices “to organize executions and the extermination of our protesters on the Maidan.”

Russia’s FSB, the

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