Andrew E Kramer
A large rally in Kiev, Ukraine, that was called in part to protest a new set of laws cracking down on public protests turned violent Sunday when men in balaclavas attacked the police with sticks and threw firecrackers and cobblestones at them.
The police responded with tear gas. By early evening, at least one police van was burning on a central street in the city, and witnesses said people had been injured, though it was unclear how severely.
The violence appeared to be the worst in at least a month for the continuing protest movement in Ukraine, and it signified a deepening of the political crisis in the country, the most populous former Soviet state beside Russia.
Protests began in November, after the government of President Viktor F Yanukovich declined to sign a sweeping free-trade agreement with the European Union. He later negotiated a financial aid package from Russia.
The fighting broke out on a side street leading to the Verkhovnaya Rada, or Parliament, and near Independence Square, which has been the centre of the protests.
In speeches on the square, opposition leaders denounced the participants in the melee as provocateurs and said they did not represent the aspirations of the peaceful protesters. But the leaders were also powerless to stop the fighting.
By midnight, the streets were a scene of utter mayhem. Those fighting the police struck them with pipes and sticks, and hurled cobblestones the size of soccer balls into their midst. They sent fireworks whistling and sparking into their ranks, and threw what appeared to be firebombs, blossoming into flames when they struck. The police stumbled backward.
The riot police sprayed from a water cannon, in spite of the freezing temperatures. Gazeta.ru, a Russian news portal, reported that 70 police officers were wounded and 40 hospitalized.