Ukraine police move on protesters
KIEV, Ukraine — Police clashed with protesters and tore down their tents in the main square of the Ukrainian capital early on Wednesday in an escalation of a weeks-long standoff threatening the leadership of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Hundreds of police in riot gear moved on the camp at Independence Square, dismantling barricades and pushing demonstrators who fought back. Scuffles broke out between police and opposition lawmakers who arrived to defend the camp.
Several thousand protesters shouted “Shame!” and “We will stand!” and sang the Ukrainian national anthem. An Orthodox priest read prayers.
The protests began in late November when Yanukovych backed away from a deal that would deepen the former Soviet republic's economic ties with the 28-nation European Union — a pact that surveys showed was supported by nearly half the country's people. The agreement would make Ukraine more Western-oriented and would be a significant loss of face for Russia, which has either controlled or heavily influenced Ukraine for centuries.
The confrontation at the protest camp unfolded as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland were in the city to try to talk to the government and the opposition to work out a solution.
One protester undressed to his waist, got down on his knees and shouted, “Stop this ... We are one people!”
An opposition lawmaker lay down on the snow, trying to block a police vehicle from advancing to the camp.
Several protesters were injured. Policemen helped injured activists up from the ground and moved them away.
Aiming to defuse the crisis, Yanukovych on Tuesday called for the release of demonstrators arrested in the protests and vowed that Ukraine is still interested in integrating with Europe.
His efforts stopped far short of opposition demands that his government resign, and the two sides appeared no closer to a resolution that would chart a secure future for their economically troubled nation.
Soon after Yanukovych spoke in a televised broadcast, top opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk told demonstrators at the square that the protest leaders were still insisting on their key demands: that Yanukovych fire the government, appoint a new one committed to signing an association agreement with the EU, release all the arrested protesters and punish the police who beat peaceful demonstrators.