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Police Retreat From Kyiv City Hall


A line of Ukranian riot police moves past protesters in Independence Square in Kyiv.
A line of Ukranian riot police moves past protesters in Independence Square in Kyiv.
Ukrainian riot police have abandoned their bid to retake Kyiv City Hall from pro-EU protesters.

Riot police in buses had arrived earlier on December 11 at City Hall, which has been occupied by some 200 protesters.

Protesters are said to have used water hoses to keep the police at bay after they tried to storm the building.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko vowed that there would be no forcible dispersal of the protest rally at Kyiv's Independence Square.

He said that the "rights and legitimate interests of other people cannot be ignored."

That statement comes after hundreds of riot police poured into the square in the early morning hours of December 11 to dismantle tents and barricades.

There were reports of injuries among the protesters, whose numbers slowly swelled to an estimated 20,000 as they heeded opposition calls to turn out on Independence Square and pushed back against the police, who were wielding shields but kept their batons at their sides.

Protesters shouted "Shame!" and "We will stand!" and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.

U.S. Reaction

Reacting to the latest events in Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying, "The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kyiv's Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity."

"This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy," Kerry said.

Writing on Twitter, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said, "We follow events in and around Maidan at this moment with great concern. Repression is not way forward for Ukraine - reform should be."

(WATCH: Livestream from outside Kyiv's City Hall)

The police action comes despite a visit by EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland who are in the city to try to talk to the government and the opposition to find a way out of the crisis.

On her Facebook page, Ashton said she had "observed with sadness" as police used force to remove peaceful people from the center of Kyiv. "The authorities didn't need to act under the coverage of night to engage with the society by using police," Ashton wrote.

Earlier, her spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, said on Twitter that Ashton held a 3 1/2 hour "substantial" meeting with Yanukovych during which "all relevant issues" were discussed.

After her talks with Yanukovych, Ashton visited Kyiv's Independence Square, the center of nearly three weeks of pro-EU protests. She was accompanied by Arseniy Yatsenyuk from the opposition Batkivshchyna party.

Later, Nuland also met with pro-EU protesters in Independence Square. She distributed cookies and sandwiches to protesters and police, most of whom have withdrawn from the square.

In Brussels, an RFE/RL correspondent quoted EU officials as saying a trip on December 11 by a senior Ukrainian delegation to discuss closer EU ties -- announced by President Viktor Yanukovych on December 10 -- will not happen.

Yanukovych first promised that a delegation from Ukraine would come to Brussels after a phone call with EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on December 1, but so far only a group of lower-ranked Ukrainian officials has visited.

Thousands of protesters have been out in the streets of Kyiv for nearly three weeks, angry with Yanukovych's last-moment decision to postpone the signing of the long-awaited agreement with the European Union. The decision was taken under apparent pressure from Russia, which has threatened trade repercussions if the deal was signed.

The Best Ukrainian Protest Pics

Yanukovych said on December 10 that Ukraine will continue to seek closer ties with the EU but must also "restore its normal trade ties with Russia."

"I am strongly against opposing relations with Europe in favor of relations with Russia and vice versa. We need to find a way to reunite," Yanukovych said.

"I think Europe will sleep peacefully in warmth if Ukraine has good relations with Russia, if there are no such conflicts like when we were shut off from gas. This is unacceptable, so we need to protect our own interests."

New Plan

Earlier on December 10, Yanukovych met with three Ukrainian former presidents -- Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma, and Viktor Yushchenko -- to try to find a political solution.

The scene outside City Hall.
The scene outside City Hall.

In comments broadcast on national television, Yanukovych said that he had asked the prosecutor-general to seek a way to release some of the demonstrators who were arrested during clashes with police last week.

But he also said that "calls for a revolution pose a threat to national security."

IN FOCUS: In Ukraine's Industrial East, The Silence Is Deafening

The pro-European protests culminated on December 8 with hundreds of thousands demonstrating in Kyiv and with the toppling of a statue of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
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