Police move in on Kyiv protest camps, some clashes reported

By bne IntelliNews December 11, 2013

bne -

Hundreds of riot police stormed the protest encampments in central Kyiv in the pre-dawn hours of December 11 and retook part of the main square that is the epicentre of the anti-government demonstrations.

According to reporters in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), police tore down barricades and reoccupied part of the main opposition site in the Maidan. In an incredibly tense situation, both protestors and riot police mostly refrained from open conflict as the latter removed barricades, though isolated skirmishes broke out.

To clear the Maidan completely of the estimated 25,000 protesters, reporters on the ground say the police would have no option but to take action that would provoke serious violence. The current limited action could be a precursor to this, and it has inevitably prompted calls from the opposition for Ukrainians to return to the Maidan.

"It seems that Yanukovych has repeated the error from November 30 and tried to use force again to clear demonstrators from downtown Kiev, early this morning," wrote Tim Ash of Standard Bank in a note to clients. "This now looks set to fail, as Kievites seem to be responding to the rallying call and are amassing in force, despite the closure of metro stations close to the demos."

The decision to move against the demonstrators will likely lead to strong resistance, as the previous use of force over a week ago galvanized the opposition and led to rallies that ran into the hundreds of thousands across the country.

The move is especially disappointing as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had just hours before held talks with top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton, as well as three former presidents, in the search for a compromise solution. By choosing to take a hardline with the protestors, especially on a day when everyone was making an effort to find a compromise, means the chances of bloody clashes has escalated dramatically.

"Yanukovych now has to decide whether he wants to extend the use of force which would now be a very high stakes strategy for him, and could result in the total failure of his regime," wrote Ash. "I guess the signs were there earlier today when Yanukovych commented that people should focus on the economic challenges, as 'he would resolve the political issues over the next few days'. By resolving them I guess his intent was to clear the demonstrations by force."

In sign of things to come, demonstrators rallied almost immediately despite the late hour. Several hundred protesters, many wearing orange helmets, gathered in front of a stage in the camp, which was the final area in Kyiv where demonstrators were holding out. Protesters sang the Ukrainian national anthem and shouted "Shame!" and "We will stand!" as officers moved in, reports Al Jazeera.

Police ranks dozens deep moved into the camp on Maidan, tearing down tents, ousting people into the winter snow, cutting off their access to food and fire. Several thousand police used their shields to push back the protestors, but thousands of protestors pushed back, their ranks swelling throughout the night as the call for help went out.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, who is the reigning world heavyweight boxing champion, urged Ukrainians to rush to the centre of the capital to defend democracy. "We will say no to a police state, no to a dictatorship," he told protesters in the square.

The decision to move in on the square will only inflame the situation further as the protestors were already deeply committed to ousting Yanukovych, who sparked the protests by refusing to sign off on a long-negotiated deal that would have moved Ukraine closer to the EU.

"The result of today's actions will be an even more confrontational situation on the ground. The opposition will dig in even more, demanding real changes in the administration. Note that while last week, in response to the excess police violence used on November 30, the government promised that officials responsible would be brought to book, and there would be a cabinet reshuffle. However, nothing has happened as yet," wrote Ash.

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