Pope appeals for end to violence in Ukraine

Activists build a barricade in central Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday Jan. 26, 2014 (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

The Pope has appealed for peace in Ukraine after reports of at least 26 deaths in the capital Kiev last night.

The country has been torn apart by violent clashes over whether it should be closer to the EU or Russia.

Protesters come from all walks of life and have gone head to head with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square for several months.

The violence has escalated in recent days, prompting EU leaders to consider sanctions.

The BBC reports that Ukraine's security services are launching an "anti-terrorist" operation to restore order, while the defence ministry is sending paratroopers to Kiev. It says the move is to defend government offices and military installations, not to crack down on the anti-government protesters.

In his appeal for an end to the violence, Pope Francis said: "It is with concern that I follow the events in Kiev during these days.

"I assure the Ukrainian people of my closeness and pray for the victims of the violence, for their families, and for the injured.

"I urge all parties to cease every form of violence and to pursue harmony and peace throughout the country."

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