Dec 01

Pro-EU protests in Kiev grow violent

Pro-EU protests in Kiev grow violent

By Susanna Capelouto, CNN, and Journalist Victoria Butenko
updated 2:06 PM EST, Sun December 1, 2013
131201133854-01-ukraine-protest-1201-horizontal-galleryA protester throws stones toward riot police on December 1. The crowd chanted “Revolution!” and “Down with the Gang” as it gathered in Kiev’s iconic Independence Square and steered a bulldozer within striking distance of police barricades protecting the nearby presidential administration office.
  • Both police and protesters report injuries during massive demonstration
  • Opposition blames provocateurs for the violence and vows to stay peaceful
  • Protesters sing the national anthem whenever there’s a threat of violence

Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) – At least 100,000 anti-government protesters packed Independence Square in Kiev on Sunday. Riot police lined up to protect the office of President Viktor Yanukovych, whose decision not to sign a landmark trade deal with the European Union sparked the public outrage.

Police officials told CNN that at least 15 officers were hospitalized after clashes with protesters, who at one point used a bulldozer to try to break through a barricade. Some protesters were seen setting objects on fire and throwing them at security forces. Others broke through a police barrier that was protecting a Christmas tree, climbed the tree and topped it with the Ukrainian flag. Kiev city officials said 53 protesters asked for medical assistance.

Vitaliy Klitchko, one of the protest leaders, dismissed the excessive violence, saying it was a setup.

“We should not be provoked. There are a lot of provocateurs. We can change the power in a civilized way. Our rally in Kiev today is a peaceful protest only,” he told people during a speech in the square.

Protesters are demanding the government’s resignation and are calling for new parliamentary and presidential elections. “We will not leave the square until the government resigns,” Klitchko said.

They have set up tents in Independence Square and are calling for a general strike. The Kiev Metro said it added extra trains and is running for extended hours to accommodate the crowds.

All day, the crowd started singing the national anthem whenever there was a threat of violent outbursts — a scene reminiscent of Ukraine’s so-called “Orange Revolution” of 2004, where millions joined in peaceful protest against alleged corruption and in defense of democracy.

Earlier Sunday, Kiev’s police chief Valeriy Koryak resigned after riot police used “excessive force” against anti-government protesters on Saturday, police said.

On Saturday, seven people were hospitalized and dozens arrested after riot police stepped in.

The United States condemned what it called “violence against protesters” in a statement posted online by the U.S. Embassy in Kiev.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko later apologized, saying riot police abused their power. He promised a thorough investigation.

But he also warned protesters via state television against improper behavior, saying “if there are calls for mass disturbances, then we will react to this harshly.”

CNN’s Zarifmo Aslamshoyeva contributed to this report.

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