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Up to 4 reported killed in violent Ukraine protests

KIEV, Ukraine – Violent protests in central Kiev escalated Wednesday, leaving at least two demonstrators dead, authorities said. Opposition and some media reports said at least four people were killed.

With international concern rising, three opposition leaders met for about three hours with President Viktor Yanukovich at his Kiev residence, but they reported only limited progress toward resolving the demands of the demonstrators.

Though police acknowledged two deaths – and denied using live ammunition against demonstrators – opposition medical chief Oleg Musiy said at least four protesters had died of gunshot wounds. Two of them died during an attack on an office used by the opposition, he said.

“We were trying to rescue two persons seriously injured in the clashes when the police attacked our emergency office with smoke and noise grenades, and they died,” Musiy said in an interview. “Soon after that we had to evacuate our personnel and the other wounded from the site.”

One of the dead was identified as ethnic Armenian activist Sergei Nigoyan, 20, who was found on central Kiev’s Grushevsky Street with gunshot wounds to the head and neck, the daily Ukrainskaya Pravda reported.

One protester was earlier reported dead after falling 40 feet from the top of gates around the Lobanovsky soccer stadium, overlooking Grushevsky Street, the site of the latest clashes, which began Sunday. Kiev health authorities later said that the man had survived the fall.

The U.S. Embassy in Kiev said it was revoking the visas of unidentified Ukrainian officials who were involved in the violence. Local media reports identified Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko as among the targeted officials.

The European Union also strongly denounced the bloodshed.

The Ukrainian protests began in late November after Yanukovich shelved plans to strike a trade deal with the European Union, apparently fearing a backlash from Russia. He later announced a $15 billion loan deal with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

Pro-Western demonstrators initially demanded that the deal with the EU be signed but later began demanding new elections. The demonstrations had largely been peaceful in recent weeks but erupted in violence Sunday in reaction to new security laws signed by Yanukovich that effectively outlawed the protests. Opposition leaders had been demanding a meeting with Yanukovich since then, and he agreed Wednesday.

At about 8 p.m., former world heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, a leading opposition figure, emerged from the meeting with Yanukovich and told an estimated 30,000 people gathered in Kiev’s Independence Square that the president had refused to agree to early presidential and parliamentary elections.

However, he said, Yanukovich said he was open to considering the resignation of his prime minister and Cabinet and the cancellation of recently adopted anti-protest laws. But, Klitschko added, the president said those measures had to be approved by parliament, which is controlled by the ruling party.

In a separate development, well-known activist Igor Lutsenko, who was reported missing Tuesday, re-emerged in Kiev on Wednesday with serious injuries, the independent UNIAN news agency reported. Lutsenko said he had been kidnapped Tuesday, held overnight at an unknown location, interrogated, beaten and then dumped in a forest outside the city.