Pitched Battles in Kiev as Riot Police Raid Protest Camp
Running battles overnight appeared to have ended with police in retreat and anti-government campaigners still in control of central square
Though it appeared early on Wednesday that the restraint promised by Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych might hold, after darkness fell in the city of Kiev, riot police stormed the barricades set up by protesters around Independence Square where more than three weeks of anti-government demonstrations have been held.
After hours of confrontation, however, the riot police seemed to concede and were reportedly leaving their positions around the square:
According to Reuters:
Battalions of Ukrainian riot police withdrew on Wednesday from a protest camp after moving against demonstrators overnight in the authorities' biggest attempt yet to reclaim streets after weeks of protests against President Viktor Yanukovich.
Columns of police left positions around the protesters' main camp in Independence Square and withdrew from state buildings occupied by demonstrators enraged at Yanukovich's decision to spurn an EU trade deal and move Ukraine further into Russia's orbit.
Overnight the police had cleared streets near the protest camp, bulldozed tents and skirmished with demonstrators. They later surrounded the City Hall, where protesters who have set up a makeshift hospital in the occupied building sprayed them with water hoses to prevent it from being stormed.
As the Guardian reported earlier:
As temperatures fell to -13C (-55F) during the coldest night of the winter to date, columns of riot police closed in on Independence Square, hub of the protests that erupted after President Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of an association pact with the EU that had been due for signing at a summit in Vilnius last month. Shortly after 1am battalions of police approached the vast square from all sides and began to dismantle the makeshift barricades that have been erected in recent days.
Ukraine's prime minister, Mykola Azarov, said later on Wednesday the operation by police was a question of clearing the roads. "No force will be applied against peaceful protesters. Do you understand this? Calm down!" he said as he opened a government meeting.
Police pulled out of the square on Wednesday morning, even as more protesters arrived. America's deputy secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, visited the square and handed out biscuits to protesters.
Several police officers confirmed they had been given orders to clear barricades from the boundaries of the square but not remove the tent camp that has sprung up inside the space.
The fiercest battle came on the north side of the square, where hundreds of black-helmeted riot police struggled for several hours against lines of protesters wearing orange helmets distributed by organisers, in scenes that threatened to descend into all-out pitched battle.
Many police were trapped behind protester lines during the scuffles but the demonstrators set them free and even handed back their shields, only for police to launch new assaults. Eventually chainsaws were used to clear the barbed wire topped wooden barriers and hundreds of riot police moved into the square itself.
And Twitter continues to source photos and updates from the fast-moving development of events: