Sunday 24 September 2017

Ukraine riot police break up pro-Europe protests

* Police use batons, stun grenades to disperse protesters
* Demonstrations follow policy U-turn on Europe

Injured protesters receive medical help in ambulance after Ukrainian riot police broke up a rally demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, at the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Police in the Ukrainian capital broke up a large anti-government demonstration in the city center before dawn Saturday, swinging truncheons and injuring many. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
Injured protesters receive medical help in ambulance after Ukrainian riot police broke up a rally demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, at the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Police in the Ukrainian capital broke up a large anti-government demonstration in the city center before dawn Saturday, swinging truncheons and injuring many. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
Ukrainian riot police push people to an underground crossing after dispersing a rally at the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Police in the Ukrainian capital broke up a large anti-government demonstration in the city center before dawn Saturday, swinging truncheons and injuring many. The riot police used tear gas when they dispersed the crowd of about 400 protesters who were demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, demonstrators said. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Ukrainian riot police officers detain a protester as they break up a rally at the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. The riot police used tear gas when they dispersed the crowd of about 400 protesters who were demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, demonstrators said. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
Wounded Reuters photographer Gleb Garanich, who was injured by riot police, takes pictures as riot police block protesters during a scuffle at a demonstration in support of EU integration at Independence Square in Kiev November 30, 2013. Riot police in the Ukrainian capital Kiev used batons and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of pro-Europe protesters from the city's main Independence Square early on Saturday, witnesses said. REUTERS/Stringer
Ukrainian riot police officers seal off the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Police broke up a large anti-government demonstration in the Ukrainian capital center before dawn, swinging truncheons and injuring many. The riot police used tear gas when they dispersed the crowd of about 400 protesters who were demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, demonstrators said.(AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
Injured protesters look for medical help in ambulance after Ukrainian riot police broke up a rally demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, at the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Police in the Ukrainian capital broke up a large anti-government demonstration in the city center before dawn Saturday, swinging truncheons and injuring many. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov) (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Richard Balmforth and Thomas Grove

Ukrainian riot police used batons and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of pro-Europe protesters early on Saturday after a night of violence in Kiev following President Viktor

Black-helmeted police moved in on protesters camped on the capital's Independence Square, first firing grenades to disorient them and then wading in with batons, witnesses said. Police units chased several protesters into side-streets.

A total of 35 people were detained for resisting police, the interior ministry said.

There were no hard figures for how many people may have been hurt though the opposition said there could be as many as a hundred.

"It was absolute savagery. By my count, we are talking of tens of cruelly beaten people perhaps hundreds," an opposition deputy, Andriy Shevchenko, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

Tension had been building in Kiev since Friday, when Yanukovich declined to sign the pact with European Union leaders at a summit in Lithuania, going back on a pledge to work toward integrating his ex-Soviet republic into the European mainstream.

He said the cost of upgrading the economy to meet EU standards was too great and that economic dialogue with Russia, Ukraine's former Soviet master, would be revived.

After the police action, about 200 demonstrators shifted the scene of their protest to St. Michael's cathedral - formerly a 12th century monastery which was destroyed by Soviet authorities in 1937 and rebuilt after independence in 1991.

"We gathered here after riot police beat us and chased us out of the square. It's the only safe place we could go to," Roman Tsaldo, 25, said.

'NO LONGER UKRAINE'

"Ukraine has woken up in a different state after Yanukovich refused to sign in Vilnius. It is no longer Ukraine. It's closer to Belarus," said opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk, referring to neighbouring Belarus which has been under one-man rule since 1996.

"Yanukovich has already started training for the (presidential) elections in 2015," said Yatsenyuk, a former economy minister. "He will carry out the elections with the 'Berkut' (riot police), special units, shields, helmets and batons," he said.

The opposition said the riot police stormed into the encampment of protesters without warning.

"There were no grounds for it. There was no provocation by the crowd. People were singing, warming themselves by camp fires," said Shevchenko.

Heavyweight boxing champion turned opposition politician Vitaly Klitschko said: "After the savagery we have seen on Independence Square we must send Yanukovich packing."

"They undermined the agreement (with the EU) so as to untie their hands for outrageous behaviour which would be unthinkable by European standards," said Klitschko, a likely contender for the presidency in 2015.

At least four people were beaten by police earlier on Friday night, including a Reuters cameraman and a Reuters photographer, who was bloodied by blows to the head by police.

The tough police tactics set the scene for possibly more confrontation on Sunday when a pro-Europe rally has been called by the opposition. About 100,000 people turned out last Sunday, flooding the city centre.

Speaking to crowds on Friday night, Klitschko said: "Today they stole our dream, our dream of living in a normal country. The failure to sign the agreement of association is treason."

Reuters

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