Mass mayhem in Kiev, Caracas, Bangkok

Last updated 16:17 19/02/2014

Protests have taken place in Kiev, Bangkok & Caracas with several fatalities.

Kiev gallery
Reuters Zoom
An anti-government protester waves the national flag from the top of a statue in Independence Square, Kiev.
bangkok
ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA / Reuters Zoom
Anti-government protesters gather as Thai soldiers stand guard at a Defence Ministry compound serving as a temporary office for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in north Bangkok Wednesday, February 19.

Casualties in Thai protest crackdown

Opposition headquarters raided by security forces in Venezuela

Violent clashes in Ukraine kill 14

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The people are revolting - and the authorities are fighting back.

Angry protests have hit three capital cities across the world in the past 24 hours, with demonstrators battling riot police in Kiev and Bangkok, killing at least 25 and leaving scores injured. In Caracas, Venezuela, an opposition politician came out of hiding and handed himself over to authorities in front of crowd of tens of thousands of supporters.

KIEV BURNS

In Kiev, smoke billowed from burning tents and piles of tyres and wood Wednesday morning (local time) as demonstrators armed with clubs and wearing body armour tried to stand their ground against riot police.

Several floors of a trade union building used as an anti-government headquarters were on fire.

Tuesday marked the bloodiest day since the former Soviet republic, caught in a geopolitical battle between Russia and the West, won its independence. At least 14 protesters and seven policemen were killed during violence that erupted in Kiev on Tuesday and continued into the early hours of Wednesday. Many were killed by gunshot and hundreds more injured, with dozens of them in serious condition, police and Opposition representatives said.

The unrest has spread to at least three cities in the western part of the country. Police said protesters had seized regional administration headquarters in the cities of Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv. Local media said protesters torched the main police station in the city of Ternopil.

Earlier, the state security service set a deadline for the demonstrators to end disorder or face "tough measures". Then the police advanced to the square before launching a full assault in the early hours, throwing stun grenades and using water cannons.

Nationwide demonstrations erupted in November after President Viktor Yanukovych bowed to Russian pressure and pulled out of a planned far-reaching trade agreement with the European Union, deciding instead to accept a Kremlin bailout for the heavily indebted economy.

The riot police moved in hours after Moscow gave Ukraine NZ$2.4 billion in aid for its crippled economy that it had been holding back to demand decisive action to crush the protest. Many in the Opposition fear that Yanukovych had made a deal with Moscow to stand firm against the protesters and would choose a Russian-leaning loyalist to be his new prime minister.

BANGKOK VIOLENCE

In Bangkok, gun battles erupted between Thai police and anti-government protesters as as hundreds of riot police made their strongest attempt to clear anti-government protest sites around Thailand's capital.

At least four people were killed and 64 others injured. Multiple gunshots were heard near the prime minister's offices, where riot police wearing helmets and bulletproof vests had started to remove protesters and dismantle a makeshift stage. Witnesses said a grenade was thrown at the police and shots were then fired by both sides. The police withdrew after a series of clashes.

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The protests are the latest instalment of an eight-year political battle broadly pitting the Bangkok middle class and royalist establishment against the poorer, mostly rural supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her billionaire brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Yingluck has been forced to abandon her offices in Government House by the protesters, led by a former deputy premier, Suthep Thaugsuban, who have also blocked major intersections since mid-January.

Suthep told supporters at an evening rally in Bangkok's central business district that protesters would gather on Wednesday outside Yingluck's temporary offices at a Defence Ministry facility in north Bangkok.

"We are not afraid anymore. Tomorrow we will go to the Defence Ministry office ... we will chase them [Yingluck and her ministers] out. No matter where Yingluck is, we will follow." Demonstrators accuse Yingluck's brother, Thaksin, of nepotism and corruption and say he used taxpayers' money for populist subsidies and easy loans that have bought him the loyalty of millions in the populous north and northeast.

They want to suspend what they say is a fragile democracy under Thaksin's control and eradicate his influence by altering electoral arrangements.

POLITICIAN SURRENDERS

In Caracas, Venezuela, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez emerged from days of hiding and surrendered to police before thousands of supporters, saying he hopes his arrest awakens Venezuela to the corruption and economic disaster caused by 15 years of socialist rule.

Speaking with a megaphone to more than 10,000 people, Lopez said that he didn't fear going to jail to defend his beliefs and constitutional right to peacefully protest against President Nicolas Maduro's government.

"If my jailing serves to awaken a people, serves to awaken Venezuela ... then it will be well worth the infamous imprisonment imposed upon me directly, with cowardice, by Nicolas Maduro," Lopez told the sea of supporters who were dressed in white to symbolise non-violence.

Venezuela's red, yellow and blue flag hung from his shoulders.

After a short speech, Lopez descended from a statue of 19th century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti, and waving a flower over his head walked a few feet to a police line, where he turned himself in to face what supporters say are trumped-up charges. His fist raised in defiance, Lopez was pulled into an armoured vehicle and driven away. A cordon of heavily armed police blocked supporters from marching downtown as they had originally planned.

Student-led protests across the nation of 29 million people have become the biggest challenge to Maduro since his election last year after socialist leader Hugo Chavez's death.

They demand Maduro's resignation over issues ranging from inflation and violent crime to corruption and product shortages.

"The country's situation is unsustainable," said film-maker Jose Sahagun, 47. "The Government's mask has fallen off. This man [Maduro] has held power for 10 months and the deterioration has been fast."

But the protesters appear unlikely to have the influence of Arab Spring demonstrations that toppled governments across the Middle East, in part because Venezuelans unsuccessfully tried similar strategies against Chavez a decade ago.

In a nation split largely down the middle on political lines, "Chavistas" have stayed loyal to Maduro despite unflattering comparisons with his famously charismatic predecessor.

Many Venezuelans fear the loss of popular, oil-funded welfare programmes should the socialist lose power.
"Chavez lives, the fight goes on!" Maduro backers chanted at a rally in support.

-Agencies

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