KIEV (AP) — More than 100,000 demonstrators chased away police to rally in the center of Ukraine‘s capital Sunday, defying a new government ban on protests on Independence Square, in the biggest show of anger over the president’s refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union.
Police allowed the rally to proceed peacefully, but when a few thousand protesters tried to storm the nearby presidential administration building with a front loader, riot police used tear gas, truncheons and flash grenades to drive them back. Dozens of people with what appeared to be head injuries were taken away by ambulance.
Prominent opposition politicians, who led the protest rally, held a news conference to call for calm.
Vitaly Klitschko, a world boxing champion and leader of the opposition Udar party, denounced the attempt to storm the president’s office as an effort to provoke the government into declaring a state of emergency. He called for everyone to stay on the square in a peaceful protest.
The Interior Ministry said the confrontation was initiated by about 200 people wearing masks who commandeered a front loader to try to break through police lines and also used gas against police.
Speaking at the demonstration from the roof of a bus, the opposition leaders demanded that President Viktor Yanukovych and his government resign. They also called for a nationwide strike and for tents to be set up to allow demonstrators to remain on the square around the clock.
“Our plan is clear: It’s not a demonstration; it’s not a reaction. It’s a revolution,” Yuriy Lutsenko said.
Chants of “revolution” resounded across a sea of yellow-and-blue Ukrainian and EU flags on the square, where the government had prohibited rallies starting Sunday.
“We are furious,” 62-year-old retired businessman Mykola Sapronov said. “The leaders must resign. We want Europe and freedom.”
Protests have been held daily in Kiev since Mr. Yanukovych backed away from an agreement that would have established free trade and deepened political cooperation between Ukraine and the EU. He justified the decision by saying that Ukraine couldn’t afford to break trade ties with Russia.
The EU agreement was to have been signed Friday, and since then, the protests have gained strength.
Sunday’s demonstration also was energized by anger over the violent dispersal of several hundred protesters at Independence Square early Saturday. Some of the protesters were left bleeding from their heads after riot police beat them with truncheons.
“They want to take our freedom away from us,” said Nina Moskalik, 25. “They beat people; they spill blood. This is why we have to come out.”
Mr. Yanukovych late Saturday condemned the use of force and promised to punish those responsible.