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Body found in square occupied by Ukrainian protesters

Efrem Lukatsky / AP file

Pro-European Union activists gather during a rally in Independence Square around the New Year Tree where a man's body was found Monday.

The mystery of how a man’s body came to be hanging inside the framework of a metal “New Year tree” that has been surrounded by anti-government demonstrators began for Ukrainian police Monday.

After removing the corpse from the cone-shaped, tubular steel construction in Kiev's Independence Square, police said it bore no external wounds and was being examined to find a cause of death. The man was 55 years old and from the Volyn region in western Ukraine, a police statement said.

Festooned with a poster of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and scrawled with graffiti attacking President Viktor Yanukovych, the tree has been surrounded by thousands of protesters since it was erected in late December.

After Yanukovych shelved a long-awaited trade pact with the European Union in December, instead favoring a bailout loan from Russia, Independence Square has been the focal point for the mostly peaceful mass protests.

Despite frigid temperatures, many have remained for weeks on end in an extensive tent camp surrounded by barricades, adding to the mystery of how the man's body got there. 

The protests have grown more violent over the last week in the wake of new, harsh anti-protest laws and three died Wednesday. Bloody scuffles again broke out between police and protesters as the body of one of the dead, Mikhail Zhizvensky, 25, was hauled through the streets on Sunday

Despite the deaths, another top opposition figure, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said Saturday that the protests will continue in spite of an offer by Yanukovych to make him prime minister.

Calling it “judgment day” he told protesters a special session of parliament called for Tuesday could be decisive.

He said the opposition would demand that the government sign a free trade agreement with the EU and release political prisoners, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. They will also demand early presidential elections.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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