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Ukraine president sacks army chief, 26 dead

Reacting to escalating violence in Kiev, the Ukrainian president has replaced his head of the armed forces.

By Gabrielle Levy
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Ukraine president sacks army chief, 26 dead
Anti-government protesters clash with the Ukrainian riot police at a barricade on February 19, 2014. At least 25 people have been killed in the worst violence since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991. UPI/Ivan Vakolenko | License Photo

KIEV, Ukraine, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- A day after renewed violence in Kiev left 26 people dead, Ukraine's president has replaced the head of the armed forces in an apparent effort to clamp down on unrest.

President Viktor Yanukovych gave no reason for naming former navy head Admiral Yury Ilyin to succeed Col. Gen. Volodymyr Zamana as the head of the armed forces, but Zamana had disagreed with the president in the decision to impose a state of emergency.

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At least 26 people were killed and hundreds injured Tuesday evening and overnight in Independence Square, known as the Maidan, where demonstrators have camped out since November.

The SBU, the state security agency, announced an "anti-terrorist operation" after protesters forced their way into the central post office. SBU said it has seized more than 1,500 firearms, and may involve soldiers in trying to quell the unrest.

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The protests began in November, when pro-Europe parties began calling for Yanukovych's resignation after he began positioning the country to have closer ties with Russia. Recent weeks' protests have mostly been calm, but tensions heightened Tuesday after police blocked a protest march to the parliament, where a debate on changing the constitution to reduce the president's powers was set to take place.

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Russia has said it was sticking to its policy of non-intervention, and has reportedly delayed $2 billion in aid for "technical reasons." It denounced what it called an "attempted coup" and urged opposition leaders to back down.

Meanwhile, the European Union has called an meeting of its 28 foreign ministers for Thursday to consider possible sanctions. Other world leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama have denounced the violence and called on Yanukovych to remove riot police from the Maidan and call for a truce.

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[Sky News]

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