Ukraine Accuses Ex-President Over Sniper Deaths

(Reuters) -

Ukraine’s prime minister on Thursday blamed ousted President Viktor Yanukovich for the deaths of dozens of anti-government protesters shot by police snipers and urged Russia to hand him over to face charges.

Arseny Yatseniuk made his comments to Reuters after Ukraine’s security service (SBU) blamed the killing of more than 100 protesters in mid-February on the Berkut riot police but said Yanukovich had been involved in planning the operation.

The SBU also said representatives of Russia’s FSB security force had been at the SBU headquarters in Kiev — under the previous government — during three months of protests, and that Russia had flown explosives into Ukraine as they worsened.

The hints of Russian involvement could further strain ties with Ukraine’s former Soviet master, which annexed the Crimea region after Yanukovich’s removal from power in what has become the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

Yanukovich has taken refuge in Russia and denied ordering the shootings. Asked in an interview whether he held the deposed president responsible for the protesters’ deaths, Yatseniuk said it was a matter for the prosecutor general to decide.

“But as a politician I can state that the former president is personally responsible and we would like to bring … (him) to justice,” he said. “It is unacceptable when the Russian Federation covers for a man who is under investigation for the charges of mass murder and crimes against humanity.”

The new government has faced pressure to identify and punish the killers in an event which was a turning point in the Moscow-backed Yanukovich’s ultimately doomed struggle to retain power.

Rooftop snipers picked off protesters and medical workers on February 20. Many died on the spot from shots to the neck and scores of bodies were left strewn on the ground in central Kiev.