Anti-Yanukovych protesters clash with anti-riot police on Independence Square in Kiev, yesterday.
KIEV: Ukrainian demonstrators yesterday forced riot police to retreat after a pre-dawn raid on their protest camp, in a blow to the authority of President Viktor Yanukovych who called for talks after nearly three weeks of rallies.
International pressure mounted on the embattled leader, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton meeting with Yanukovych twice over the past two days and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland telling the president the attempted police crackdown was “inadmissable”.
Yanukovych vowed yesterday that the authorities would never use force against peaceful protests and urged the opposition to sit down for talks. “For the sake of achieving compromise I am calling on the opposition not to reject (talks), not to follow the path of confrontation and ultimatums,” Yanukovych said in a statement.
“I am ready to participate in such round table talks personally.”
The opposition, which has earlier ruled out any negotiations until he dismissed the government and punished riot police for crushing a smaller protest on November 30, vowed to do everything to topple the president.
Jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko earlier yesterday warned the protest movement against holding any negotiations with Yanukovych.
“I am calling on all Ukrainians: rise up!” Yanukovych’s arch rival said in a statement. “No talks with the gang.” Several dozen people were injured in the early hours of yesterday when riot police and interior ministry special forces moved against the demonstrators who have occupied Kiev’s Independence Square in anger at the rejection of a landmark EU pact.
But the security forces were eventually forced into a humiliating retreat amid cheers from the demonstrators after the ranks of protesters swelled.
“We have not won the war yet but we’ve decisively won this battle. The authorities are panicking,” said protester Anton Kulyk.
In an extraordinary choice of timing, the raid came as both Nuland and Ashton were in Kiev.