European Union ministers sought to broker a political settlement in Ukraine overnight Thursday after gun battles between police and anti-government protesters brought the death toll to 75 in two days of the worst violence in the country since Soviet times.

Three hours of fierce fighting in Kyiv's Independence Square, which was recaptured by the protesters, left the bodies of over 20 civilians strewn on the ground, a short distance from where President Viktor Yanukovych was meeting the EU delegation.

Foreign ministers from Germany, France and Poland embarked on "a night of difficult negotiations" with Yanukovych and the opposition, said EU officials who hoped a plan for an interim government and early elections could bring peace.

"Talks of Polish, German, French foreign ministers at Yanukovych's office still going on," tweeted Marcin Wojciechowski, the spokesman for the Polish Foreign Minister, in Polish shortly before midnight local time ( 5 p.m. ET). "The opposition leaders, the parliament's speaker, many MPs attend." 

But France's foreign minister said there was still no agreement over a proposed road map to ease the crisis, which erupted in November after Yanukovich abandoned a proposed trade deal with the EU and turned instead toward Moscow.

"There is no agreement for now, the negotiations are very difficult, and we are working to reach a peaceful solution," France's Laurent Fabius told reporters.

The three ministers, who extended their stay in Kyiv until Friday, have been negotiating with the government and opposition since Thursday morning.

"We have to find every way to see how we can put a new government in place, think about elections and see how we can end the violence, but at this moment there is no solution," Fabius said.

Snipers cut down protesters

Earlier in the day, riot police were captured on video shooting from a rooftop at demonstrators in the central plaza, which has become known as the Euromaidan, or Europe square, on Twitter and elsewhere. Protesters hurled petrol bombs and paving stones to drive the security forces off a corner of the square the police had captured in battles that began two days earlier.

The Health Ministry said 75 people had been killed since Tuesday afternoon, which meant at least 47 died in Thursday's clashes. That was by far the worst violence since Ukraine emerged from the crumbling Soviet Union 22 years ago.

The group Euromaidan PR, which calls itself the "public relations secretariat" of the opposition movement and has been posting information about the clashes in several languages, including English, posted photos of some of those allegedly killed in the clashes on its Twitter feed.

The trio of visiting foreign ministers met Yanukovich and the opposition after EU colleagues in Brussels imposed targeted sanctions on Ukraine and threatened more if the authorities failed to restore calm.

The sanctions include visa bans, the freezing of assets and the suspension of export licences for equipment used for crowd control such as water cannons, body armour and helmets.

Canada also announced sanctions against Ukrainian officials Thursday, expanding travel restrictions against senior members of the Ukrainian government that were originally announced on Jan. 28 and imposing economic sanctions on members of Yanukovych's regime and its supporters.

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Anti-government protesters listen to speeches by their leaders in Kyiv's Independence square early February 21. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

Vitaly Klitschko, an opposition leader, said he hoped for a deal overnight but added there was no clear result so far.

In further diplomatic efforts, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel who in turn discussed Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin "stressed the critical importance of an immediate end to bloodshed, the need to take urgent measures to stabilize the situation and suppress extremist and terrorist attacks," the Kremlin said, sharing Yanukovych's view that he faces a coup.

Interactive: Global response to the crisis




Sources: Associated Press, Reuters, CBC News

The Associated Press reported that U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, the administration's prime contact with Yanukovych in recent days, spoke to the Ukrainian leader Thursday by phone and urged him to immediately pull back police and other military and paramilitary forces that were repelling demonstrators.

U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel had tried to reach the Ukrainian Defence Ministry to discuss the violence, but "they have been unresponsive to our requests," said Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman who said the lack of responsiveness was unprecedented.

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Ukrainian opposition members celebrate during the adoption of a resolution urging the authorities to stop shooting, withdraw police forces from the centre of Kyiv and end the action against the protesters. (Viktor Gurniak/Reuters)

The White House said Obama and Merkel agreed it was "critical" U.S. and EU leaders "stay in close touch in the days ahead on steps we can take to support an end to the violence and a political solution that is in the best interests of the Ukrainian people." Earlier this month, bugged and leaked diplomatic phone calls exposed EU-U.S. disagreement on Ukraine.

The EU plan "offers a chance to bring an end to violence," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in Warsaw, adding that Yanukovych was willing to hold rapid elections to parliament and the presidency  a year before his term ends — the latter something Yanukovich has so far appeared reluctant to consider.

Vigil for fallen 'heroes'

In Kyiv, demonstrators on Independence Square held a vigil after dark for fallen comrades, lit by mobile phone screens held aloft.

Medics carried bodies on stretchers through lines of protesters who chanted "Heroes, heroes" to the dead.

Though armed militants on the barricades tend to be from the far-right fringe, the opposition has broad support. But many Ukrainians also fear violence slipping out of control.

"This is brother fighting brother," said Iryna, a local woman walking to Independence Square to donate syringes for blood transfusions. "We need to realize we're all one people."

'Would you go out if there were snipers on the roofs of your city? This is essentially war.'- Iryna, Kyiv resident

Kyiv residents emptied bank machines of cash and stockpiled groceries, with many staying off the streets.

"Would you go out if there were snipers on the roofs of your city? This is essentially war," Iryna said.

All schools and kindergartens in central Kyiv closed this week and the city's metro system was stopped at one stage, although it reopened with a limited service on Thursday.

MPs vote to end police action

In a sign of faltering support for Yanukovych, his hand-picked head of Kyiv's city administration quit the ruling party in protest at bloodshed.

APTOPIX Ukraine Protests

Activists pay respects to protesters killed in clashes with police in Kyiv's Independence Square on Thursday. (Sergei Chuzavkov/Associated Press)

In an indication that Yanukovych is losing support in parliament, the assembly late on Thursday adopted a resolution urging authorities to stop shooting, withdraw police from the centre of Kyiv and end the action against the protesters.

The opposition is usually unable to muster enough votes to push through resolutions against Yanukovych, but 34 members of his Party of Regions voted with his opponents in the chamber. Yanukovych is likely to ignore the resolution, backed by 236 members of the 450-seat parliament. 

Despite the 34 members of Yanukovych's party who voted for an end to the crackdown, the president's core loyalists were still talking tough.

Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, wearing camouflage as he made a televised statement, said police had been issued with combat weapons and would use them "in accordance with the law" to defend themselves — or to free 67 of their colleagues his ministry said were being held captive.

Demonstrators said captured police had been allowed to go.

With files from The Associated Press, CBC News