Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Ukraine riot police back down

Riot policemen block Pro-European Union activists camping out in their tents on the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. Hundreds of police have moved on a large protest camp in the center of Kiev. Protesters are shouting "Shame!" "We will stand!" and singing the Ukrainian national anthem. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Riot policemen block Pro-European Union activists camping out in their tents on the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.
Riot policemen block Pro-European Union activists camping out in their tents on the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013.
Ukrainian riot police guard Ukrainian government buildings in Kiev, Ukraine, early Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.
Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, left, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, center, and former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vladimir Ogryzko, right, arrive to meet Pro-European Union activists gathered on the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.
Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, left, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, center, arrive to meet Pro-European Union activists gathered on the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.
Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, left, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, center, arrive to meet Pro-European Union activists gathered on the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.
Pro-European Union activists warm themselves around a bonfire as they gather in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.
Riot police get ready to displace pro-European Union activists from their barricades at the Ukrainian presidential administration building in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.
Riot police officers prepare to break through a barricade while trying to displace pro-European Union activists from the Ukrainian presidential administration building in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.
Riot police try to displace pro-European Union activists from their barricades at the Ukrainian presidential administration building in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.
Riot police push pro-European Union activists away from their barricades at the Ukrainian presidential administration building in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013.
Ukrainian lawmaker and chairman of the opposition party Udar (Punch), WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko surrounded by police trying to stop possible clashes between police and Pro-European Union activists in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.
Ukrainian riot police block Pro-European Union activists' tent camp next to the Ukrainian Government buildings in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.
Pro-European Union activists gather in their tent camp on Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.
Ukrainian lawmaker and chairman of the opposition party Udar (Punch), WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko surrounded by police trying to stop possible clashes between police and Pro-European Union activists in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.
Pro-European Union activists gather in their tent camp on Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.
A man wearing Ukrainian national flag walks past Ukrainian riot police as they block the road next to Pro-European Union activists gathered on the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.
Ukrainian protesters smash a statue of Vladimir Lenin with a sledgehammer, in central Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. Anti-government protesters have toppled the statue of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin in central Kiev amid huge protests gripping Ukraine. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
KIEV, UKRAINE - DECEMBER 8: Anti-government protesters hold a large rally on Independence Square on December 8, 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine. Thousands of people have been protesting against the government since a decision by Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to suspend a trade and partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of incentives from Russia. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - DECEMBER 8: Anti-government protesters lock arms to block access to a street that leads to the Ukrainian parliament building, the site of a rally held by the ruling Party of Regions in support of the government and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, on December 8, 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine. Thousands of people have been protesting against the government since a decision by President Yanukovych to suspend a trade and partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of incentives from Russia. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Flowers from pro-European union activists lay in front of police outside the Presidential office in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, with various messages supporting their cause. Thousands of Ukrainians angered by police violence and the president's turn away from Europe are expected to converge on the capital Sunday. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
KIEV, UKRAINE - DECEMBER 8: Men dressed as Cossacks ride horses through the streets on December 8, 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine. Thousands of people have been protesting against the government since a decision by Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to suspend a trade and partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of incentives from Russia. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
A teenager waves a national flag over a crowd of Pro-European Union activists gathered during a rally in the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. Over 200,000 angry Ukrainians occupied a central Kiev square on Sunday, to denounce President Viktor Yanukovychs decision to turn away from Europe and align this ex-Soviet republic with Russia, as massive protests continued for a third week. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
KIEV, UKRAINE - DECEMBER 8: Anti-government protesters camp on Independence Square early in the morning on December 8, 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine. Thousands of people have been protesting against the government since a decision by Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to suspend a trade and partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of incentives from Russia. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - DECEMBER 8: Anti-government protesters eat breakfast inside the occupied International Centre of Culture and Arts on December 8, 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine. Thousands of people have been protesting against the government since a decision by Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to suspend a trade and partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of incentives from Russia. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - DECEMBER 7: Anti-government protesters sleep on the floor of the occupied Kiev City Hall on December 7, 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine. Thousands of people have been protesting against the government since a decision by Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to suspend a trade and partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of incentives from Russia. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
A protester uses a chain as he and others clash with police outside of the presidential administration building in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013
Protesters clash with police at Presidential office in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. As many as 100,000 demonstrators chased away police to rally in the center of Ukraine's capital on Sunday, defying a government ban on protests on Independence Square, in the biggest show of anger over the president's refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Ukrainian opponents of European integration with the European Union attend an action "Solemn funeral of Association with the EU" in support of the decision of President Viktor Yanukovych not sign agreements with the EU in the center of Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday Nov. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Ukrainian police officers wear gas masks as they surround the Independence square during an opposition rally in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013
Ukrainian opponents of European integration with the European Union attend an action "Solemn funeral of Association with the EU" in support of the decision of President Viktor Yanukovych not sign agreements with the EU in the center of Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday Nov. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
An unidentified Ukrainian man talks to police officers as they surround the Independence square wearing gas masks during an opposition rally in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013
An unidentified Ukrainian man talks to police officers as they surround the Independence square wearing gas masks during an opposition rally in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013
Ukrainian riot police officers detain an activist during a rally demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, at the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013
Ukrainian riot police officers detain an activist during a rally demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, at the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013
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
Ukrainian riot police officers seal off the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013
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)
Ukrainian riot police cordon off the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013.
An Ukrainian orthodox priest points as police officers guard the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013
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
Ukrainian Interior ministry soldiers guard the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013
Demonstrators gather during a rally in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013
Demonstrators gather during a rally in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. As many as 100,000 demonstrators chased away police to rally in the center of Ukraine's capital on Sunday, defying a government ban on protests on Independence Square, in the biggest show of anger over the president's refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Demonstrators gather during a rally in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. As many as 100,000 demonstrators chased away police to rally in the center of Ukraine's capital on Sunday, defying a government ban on protests on Independence Square, in the biggest show of anger over the president's refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Demonstrators gather during a rally in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013
Demonstrators gather during a rally in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013
Demonstrators gather during a rally in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013
Smoke engulfs protesters and police as they clash outside the presidential office in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. As many as 100,000 demonstrators chased away police to rally in the center of Ukraine's capital on Sunday, defying a government ban on protests on Independence Square, in the biggest show of anger over the president's refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Protesters clash with police at Presidential office in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. As many as 100,000 demonstrators chased away police to rally in the center of Ukraine's capital on Sunday, defying a government ban on protests on Independence Square, in the biggest show of anger over the president's refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Protesters clash with police at the presidential office in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013
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
Ukrainian protesters gather over barrels with bonfires to warm themselves at the Independence Square in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday, Nov.
Demonstrators gather during a rally in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013

Anti-government protesters in Ukraine are claiming victory after riot police backed down from a showdown in Kiev's main square.

Squadrons of officers in helmets and carrying shields converged at about 1am on Independence Square, but thousands of protesters put up fierce resistance for hours, shoving back at police lines to keep them away from key sites.

The Ukrainian chief of police then announced that there would be no attempt to break up the demonstrations. Protesters have been gathering around the clock to demand the resignation of the government in a crisis that threatens the leadership of President Viktor Yanukovych.

"I want to calm everyone down - there will be no dispersal," interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko said. "No one is encroaching on the rights of citizens to peaceful protest."

Police buses that had been parked outside the building all night drove away to the protesters' shouts of "Shame!" Another group of police that had been stationed outside Kiev city hall, which has been occupied by protesters for weeks, also departed.

Several thousand protesters who remained on the square after dawn cheered as police drove away.

"This is a great victory," Arseny Yatsenyuk, a top opposition leader, shouted from the stage.

Throughout the stand off the police appeared to be under orders to refrain from using excessive force, unlike the violent beatings of protesters in recent weeks. Several demonstrators and police were injured, but the policeman helped injured activists up from the ground and moved them away.

The protests began in late November when Mr Yanukovych backed away from a pact 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.

Demonstrators who gathered during the night waved EU and Ukrainian flags and sang the national anthem. Many of the protesters, wearing orange hard hats to protect themselves from police truncheons, locked arms and simultaneously jumped up and down to stay warm in freezing temperatures that plunged to minus 11C.

Scuffles broke out between police and opposition politicians, one of whom lay down on the snow trying to block a vehicle from advancing on the camp. An Orthodox priest sang prayers, and a popular Ukrainian rock song with the lyrics "I will not give up without a fight" blared from loudspeakers over the square. Pop singer Ruslana kept up morale by singing the national anthem and cheering protesters from the stage.

After some of the barricades and tents were dismantled, police and city workers began to remove debris with bulldozers. Policemen used what appeared to be chain saws to clear the barricades.

But as dawn arrived the police had not been able to drive back the protesters on the square or to storm the city administration building, where demonstrators poured the building steps with ice to make seizing it more difficult.

The confrontation unfolded as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and US 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.

The protests are the biggest since Ukraine's pro-democracy Orange Revolution. Those protests, also centered on Independence Square, known as the Maidan, succeeded in forcing the annulment of Yanukovych's fraud-tainted presidential victory in 2004, and ushered his pro-Western opponents into power. Yanukovych returned to the presidency in the 2010 vote, drawing on support from heavily industrialized eastern Ukraine where there are many Russian speakers.

Aiming to defuse the latest crisis, Mr Yanukovych had called for the release of the demonstrators previously arrested in the protests and vowed that Ukraine is still interested in integrating with Europe.

The crisis was deepened by Ukraine's troubled finances. The economy is teetering on the brink of default and Mr Yanukovych has been trying to get funding either from the International Monetary Fund or From Russia.

-AP

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