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Leaked phone call suggests anti-government protesters hired the snipers

Estonia has confirmed the authenticity of a leaked telephone call between its foreign minister and an EU chief which suggested the sniper killings in Ukraine last month were ordered by the new coalition.

The 11-minute call between the EU's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and her Estonian counterpart Urmas Paet was made on February 25 in the aftermath of the massacre.

During the call, Paet claims a doctor told him both protesters and police were shot by snipers during clashes in Kiev allegedly on the orders of the opposition.

But while the Baltic state acknowledged the audio was genuine, it denied that it had blamed opponents of Ukraine's deposed president for sniper killings during last month's unrest.

The recording, published on YouTube, was picked up by Russian state television and was the top item on state news agency RIA-Novosti.

Rossyia-24 state TV dubbed parts into Russian and suggested the EU now had proof that sniper shootings at police and protesters had been carried out by the same people.

At least 88 people were killed in gunbattles between police and anti-government protesters in late February in Ukraine's worst violence since Soviet times. Each side has blamed the other for using snipers.

In the leaked audio, Paet, speaking in imperfect English, says a doctor identified only as Olga had told him on a visit to Kiev that snipers may have come from the opposition.

'The same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides among policemen and then people from the street,' Paet says.

'So that there is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers it was not Yanukovich, but it was somebody from the new coalition,' he said, referring to the former opposition to deposed President Viktor Yanukovich.

He added that Ukrainians do not trust the Maidan leaders as all the opposition politicians have a 'dirty past'.

In a statement, the Estonian government denied Paet viewed the opposition as being involved in the sniping.

'Foreign Minister Paet was giving an overview of what he had heard the previous day in Kiev and expressed concern over the situation on the ground,' it said.

'We reject the claim that Paet was giving an assessment of the opposition's involvement in the violence.

A spokeswoman for Ashton declined to comment on the leaked conversation.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has not reacted officially, but Itar-Tass news agency quoted a source at the ministry on Wednesday as saying that Moscow was 'surprised' that the EU was not commenting on the intercepted phone chat.

The leak could have major implications for the new leaders of Ukraine, who ousted Yanukovych last week following days of violent protests following the shootings.

94 people were killed and another 900 injured during the standoff between police and protesters at Independence Square in Kiev.

Outrage over the incident led to protesters taking to the streets in greater numbers and saw the United States impose visa bans on 20 Ukrainian government officials it considered 'responsible for ordering human rights abuses related to political oppression'.

The European Union also introduced a visa ban and a financial asset freeze against those it believed to responsible for the shootings, and a ban on exporting equipment that may be used for repression in Ukraine.

The agency said a spokesperson for Ms Ashton claimed to have 'no comment' on the alleged leak.

Russia Today said the clip was uploaded by officers of Security Service of Ukraine, who remain loyal to Yanukovich. They claimed the officers hacked Paet's and Ashton's phones to obtain the audio.

[Source: By John Hall, Mail Online, London, 05Mar14]

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