February 18

Ukrainian riot police move against Kiev protest camp

The violence is the deadliest in nearly three months of protests that have paralyzed the nation’s capital.

By Maria Danilova
The Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine – Amid cries of “Glory to Ukraine!” and with flaming tires lighting up the night sky, thousands of riot police armed with stun grenades and water cannons attacked the sprawling protest camp in the center of Kiev on Tuesday, following a day of street battles that left 18 people dead and hundreds injured.

click image to enlarge

Monuments to Kiev’s founders burn as anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev’s Independence Square, the epicenter of the country’s current unrest, on Tuesday.

The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Riot police clash with anti-government protesters outside Ukraine’s parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Some thousands of anti-government protesters clashed with police in a new eruption of violence Tuesday.

The Associated Press

The violence was the deadliest in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the nation’s identity, and the worst in the country’s post-Soviet history

With the boom of exploding stun grenades and fireworks nearly drowning out his words at times, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged the 20,000 protesters to defend the camp on Independence Square that has been the heart of the protests.

“We will not go anywhere from here,” Klitschko told the crowd, speaking from a stage in the square as tents and tires burned around him, releasing huge plumes of smoke. “This is an island of freedom and we will defend it,” he said.

Many heeded his call.

“This looks like a war against one’s own people,” said Dmytro Shulko, 35, who was heading toward the camp armed with a fire bomb. “But we will defend ourselves.”

As police dismantled some of the barricades on the perimeter of the square and tried to push away the protesters, they fought back with rocks, bats and fire bombs. Against the backdrop of a soaring monument to Ukraine’s independence, protesters fed the burning flames with tires, creating walls of fire to prevent police from advancing. A large building the protesters had used as a headquarters caught fire and many struggled to get out. Many of the protesters were bleeding.

Speaking over loudspeakers, police urged women and children to leave the square because an “anti-terrorist” operation was underway.

The protesters appeared to sense that Ukraine’s political standoff was reaching a critical turning point. Waving Ukrainian and opposition party flags, they shouted “Glory to Ukraine!” and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.

Shortly before midnight, Klitschko headed to President Viktor Yanukovych’s office to try to resolve the crisis, his spokeswoman said. An hour later, he was still waiting to be received.

Earlier in the day, protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of once again ignoring their demands and dragging his feet on a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.

Tensions had soared after Russia said Monday that it was ready to resume providing the loans that Yanukovych’s government needs to keep Ukraine’s ailing economy afloat. This raised fears among the opposition that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.

The protests began in late November after Yanukovych turned away from a long-anticipated deal with the European Union in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia. The political maneuvering continued, however, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

Until Monday, the government and the opposition had appeared to be making some progress toward resolving the political crisis peacefully. In exchange for the release of scores of jailed activists, protesters on Sunday vacated a government building that they had occupied since Dec. 1.

Russia also may have wanted to see Kiev remain calm through the Winter Olympics in Sochi, so as not to distract from President Vladimir Putin’s games. But after the outburst of violence against riot police, Yanukovych’s government may have felt it had no choice but to try to restore order.

(Continued on page 2)

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