ROME (AFP) - Pope Francis prayed on Sunday for an end to violence in Kiev, calling for dialogue between the Ukraine government and opposition amid fears fierce protests could develop into a wider civil conflict.
"I hope for constructive dialogue between the institutions and civil society, and that - without recourse to violent action - the spirit of peace and the search for common good may prevail in the hearts of all," he told crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square for the Angelus prayers.
"I am close in my prayers to Ukraine, in particular to those who have lost their lives, and their families," the pontiff said.
Officials say three people have been killed in the escalating protests in Kiev over the past week, raising fears of a wider civil conflict as protests have spread to outlying regions of Ukraine in the former Soviet republic's worst crisis since independence in 1991.
The protests first erupted in response to President Viktor Yanukovych's refusal to sign a key deal with the European Union in November and a decision to ally closer with former master Russia.
But they have snowballed into anti-government protests against Mr Yanukovych's four-year rule, which the opposition claims has been riddled with corruption and nepotism.