Ukrainian riot police charge square

02:14, Feb 19 2014
Kiev gets bloody
Wounded people are seen after clashes with riot police in central Kiev.
Kiev gets bloody
A tent burns in the anti-government protesters camp at Independence Square in Kiev.
Kiev gets bloody
A wounded riot police officer is seen in central Kiev.
Kiev gets bloody
Molotov cocktails are hurled at riot police.
Kiev gets bloody
An anti-government protester prepares to throw a Molotov cocktail as he joins others in attacking an office of the pro-presidential Party of the Regions.
Kiev gets bloody
Molotov cocktails are hurled at interior ministers.
Kiev gets bloody
Interior Ministry members take cover behind shields during clashes with anti-government protesters.
Kiev gets bloody
Anti-government protesters attend a rally at Independence Square in Kiev on February 16.
Kiev gets bloody
A priest speaks through a megaphone to riot police and anti-government protesters.
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Riot police stand in formation during clashes with protesters February 19.
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An anti-government protester rises his fist behind burning barricades in Kiev's Independence Square February 19, 2014.
Ukraine violence
KIEV VIOLENCE: Burning debris in the square in central Kiev.
Ukraine violence
POLICE: Government snipers were seen around state buildings.
Ukraine violence
UNITED: Protesters have been clashing with police for three days.
Kiev gallery
Anti-government protesters continue to clash with police in Independence square, Kiev.
Kiev gallery
An anti-government protester waves the national flag from the top of a statue in Independence Square, Kiev.
Kiev gallery
An anti-government protester runs trough the rubble in Independence Square, Kiev.
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An aerial view shows Independence Square.

Ukrainian riot police charged protesters occupying a central Kiev square early Wednesday after the bloodiest day since the former Soviet republic, caught in a geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West, won its independence.

Police battled their way into Independence Square, centre of three months of protests against President Viktor Yanukovich, but demonstrators, some armed with clubs and wearing helmets and body armour, tried to stand their ground.

Smoke billowed from burning tents and piles of tyres and wood as thousands of protesters held on to the centre of the square, a Reuters cameraman said. Several floors of a trade union building, used as an anti-government headquarters, were on fire.

Protesters in Kiev, Feb 18, 2014
VIOLENT PROTEST: Protesters in Kiev threw rocks at the parliament.

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 a serious condition, police and opposition representatives said.

Alarmed Western governments demanded restraint and dialogue. US Vice President Joe Biden called Yanukovich, urging him to pull back the government forces and exercise maximum restraint, the White House said.

Earlier, the state security service set a deadline for the demonstrators to end disorder or face ''tough measures''.

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Then the police advanced up to the square before launching a full assault in the early hours, throwing stun grenades.

Nationwide demonstrations erupted in November after Yanukovich 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.

Western powers warned Yanukovich against trying to smash the pro-European demonstrations, urging him to turn back to the EU and the prospect of an IMF-supported economic recovery, while Russia accused them of meddling.

Ukraine has been rocked periodically by political turmoil since gaining independence from the Soviet Union more than 22 years ago, but it had never experienced violence on this scale.

As the security forces moved forward, opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko reacted defiantly, telling supporters on the square: ''We will not leave here. This is an island of freedom. We will defend it.''

The world champion boxer-turned politician later arrived at Yanukovich's office for talks, Klitschko's spokeswoman said, but he and another opposition leader, former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, were still waiting to see the president an hour later.

Earlier on Tuesday the State Security Service (SBU), in a joint statement with the Interior Ministry, signalled the government's intentions. ''If by 6pm the disturbances have not ended, we will be obliged to restore order by all means envisaged by law,'' they said.

The riot police moved in hours after Moscow gave Ukraine NZ$2.4 billion in aid for its crippled economy which it had been holding back to demand decisive action to crush the protests.

Local media reported that anti-government protesters had torched a police station and seized a prosecutor's office in the western city of Ternopil.

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PRAYING FOR UKRAINE

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said he had spoken to Ukraine’s acting prime minister, who had given assurances that the authorities would try to avoid using live firearms.

‘‘For the sake of the Ukrainians and for the sake of the future of that country, I will pray that he is right,’’ Fuele told a public event in Brussels.

A police spokeswoman gave a variety of reasons for the deaths including gunshot wounds, a traffic accident and heart attacks. One protester died in a fire.

Right Sector, a militant far-right group, added to tensions by calling on people holding weapons to go to Independence Square, also known as Maidan, to protect it from the security forces.

As protesters and police battled on the streets of Kiev, Russia called the escalation a ‘‘direct result of connivance by Western politicians and European structures that have shut their eyes ... to the aggressive actions of radical forces’’.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has tried to broker a power-sharing transition, urge Ukraine’s leadership ‘‘to address the root causes of the crisis’’.

Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, telephoned his Ukrainian counterpart to warn against sliding back into violence and to urge the government to keep working for a political solution.

‘‘News of a fresh escalation of violence is alarming. We are shocked to hear of the dead and injured today,’’ Steinmeier said in a statement, raising the possibility of EU sanctions against Ukrainian leaders.

‘‘Those responsible for taking any decisions that lead to the further spilling of blood must know that the reserve Europe has shown in terms of personal sanctions will be reconsidered,’’ he added.

Monday’s NZ$2.4 billion cash injection, a resumption of a NZ$18billion aid package, was seen as a signal that Russia believed Yanukovich had a plan to end the protests and had dropped any idea of bringing opposition leaders into government.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have won the battle for influence in Ukraine for now, protesters who have occupied the centre of the capital are not going quietly.

Reuters