A protest by about 300,000 Ukrainians angered by their government’s decision to freeze integration with the West turned violent Sunday, when a group of demonstrators besieged the president’s office and police drove them back with truncheons, tear gas and flash grenades. Dozens of people were injured.
The mass rally in central Kiev defied a government ban on protests on Independence Square, in the biggest show of anger over President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a political and economic agreement with the European Union.
The protesters also were infuriated by the violent dispersal of a small, opposition rally two nights before.
While opposition leaders called for a nationwide strike and prolonged peaceful street protests to demand that the government resign, several thousand people broke away and marched to Yanukovych’s nearby office.
A few hundred of them, wearing masks, threw rocks and other objects at police and attempted to break through the police lines with a front loader. After several hours of clashes, riot police used force to push them back.
Dozens of people with what appeared to be head injuries were taken away by ambulance. Several journalists, including some beaten by police, were injured in the clashes.
Opposition leaders denounced the clashes as a provocation aimed at discrediting the peaceful demonstration and charged that the people who incited the storming of the presidential office were government-hired thugs.
Several opposition leaders, including world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, walked over to Yanukovych’s office to urge protesters to return to Independence Square. Order appeared to have been restored by Sunday night, with rows of riot police standing guard behind metal fences.
Some protesters then headed to Yanukovych’s residence outside Kiev, but their cars were stopped by police.
Speaking before the vast crowds on Independence Square from the roof of a bus, the opposition leaders demanded that Yanukovych and his government resign.