Using water cannons and stun grenades, Ukrainian riot police moved in against the sprawling protest camp in the center of Kiev late Tuesday after nine people were killed in violent street clashes.
The Associated Press
KIEV, Ukraine — Using water cannons and stun grenades, Ukrainian riot police moved in against the sprawling protest camp in the center of Kiev late Tuesday after nine people were killed in violent street clashes.
Thousands of protesters had filled Independence Square just hours before, sensing that Ukraine's political standoff was reaching a critical turning point after the deadliest violence yet in nearly three months of protests that have paralyzed the capital and the nation.
Tents were seen going up in flames as defiant protesters shouted "Glory to Ukraine!"
Earlier in the day, protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accused President Viktor Yanukovych's government of ignoring their demands once again.
As darkness fell, law enforcement agencies vowed to bring order to the streets and shut down subway stations in the capital. Thousands of protesters streamed to the square to defend the camp, where Orthodox priests prayed for peace.
"We see that this regime again has begun shooting people; they want to sink Ukraine in blood. We will not give in to a single provocation," opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the protesters. "We will not take one step back from this square. We have nowhere to retreat to. Ukraine is behind us, Ukraine's future is behind us."
The clashes dimmed hopes for an imminent solution to the political crisis and fueled tensions that began soaring following new steps by Russia and the European Union to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.
Earlier in the day, thousands of angry protesters shouting "Shame!" hurled stones at police and set trucks blocking their way on fire. Riot police retaliated with stun grenades and fired what appeared to be small metal balls, as smoke from burning tires and vehicles billowed over Kiev.
Olha Bilyk, spokeswoman for the Kiev city police, told The Associated Press that two policemen were killed, likely by gunshot wounds, in Tuesday's clashes and seven civilians died, including three who were shot.
In addition to the deaths, the Interior Ministry and medics for the protesters said 40 police and about 150 protesters were injured.
Protesters stormed the office of the president's Party of Regions on Tuesday, but police pushed them away. When firefighters arrived to put out a fire, they discovered the body of an office employee, Kiev's emergency services said.
U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey R. Payatt called for dialogue, but also threatened both sides with sanctions.
"We believe Ukraine's crisis can still be solved via dialogue, but those on both sides who fuel violence will open themselves to sanctions," Payatt said on Twitter.
The protests began in late November after Yanukovych froze ties with the EU in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia, but the political maneuvering continued and Moscow later suspended its payments. On Monday, however, while opposition leaders were meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia offered a fresh infusion of the billions of dollars that Ukraine needs to keep its ailing economy afloat.