AT LEAST fourteen people have been killed in clashes as police armed with stun grenades and water cannons stormed the main opposition camp in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
The police dismantled some of the barricades on the perimeter of Independence Square, and many of the demonstrators’ tents were set on fire. But the 20,000 protesters fought back, armed with rocks, bats and fire bombs, and singing the Ukrainian national anthem.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged the protesters to defend the camp, which has been the epicentre of nearly three months of anti-government protests.
Mr Klitschko said: “We will not go anywhere from here. This is an island of freedom and we will defend it.”
Battle between police and protesters
Earlier in the day, protesters had attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, after accusing President Viktor Yanukovych’s government of ignoring their demands once again.
Riot police retaliated with stun grenades and fired what appeared to be ball bearing-like projectiles at the crowd.
The clashes dimmed hopes for an imminent solution to the political crisis and fuelled tensions that began soaring following new steps by Russia and the European Union to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.
“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.”
“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.”
Olha Bilyk, spokeswoman for the Kiev city police, said two policemen were killed, likely by gunshot wounds, in today’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.
Call for talks
US 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,” Mr Payatt said on Twitter.
The protests began in late November after Yanukovych froze ties with the EU in exchange for a 15 billion US dollars (£9bn) bailout from Russia, but the political maneuvering continued and Moscow later suspended its payments.
On Monday, 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.
Justice Minister Olena Lukash, a close Yanukovych aide, accused the opposition of violating earlier agreements with the government and blamed protest leaders for the violence.
Mr Klitschko said that Mr Yanukovych agreed to meet opposition leaders early on Wednesday, but admitted that there was little trust in the government left. He called on Mr Yanukovych to agree to the reforms and to call an early election or face a serious escalation of the crisis.
“We are talking minutes, not hours,” Mr Klitschko said.
Mr Yanukovych still remains popular in the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, where economic and cultural ties with Russia are strong. But western Ukraine is keen to pursue closer ties to the 28-nation EU and move away from Russia’s orbit.