Anti-government protesters in Ukraine have vowed further demonstrations against the government after weekend unrest led to injuries. Boxing champion-turned-opposition leader Vitali Klitchko made a plea for regime change.
Demonstrators in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, remained camped out in Independence Square in defiance of a ruling that bans gatherings there.
Estimates of the number of people attending demonstrations ranged wildly, from 100,000 to 700,000.
Violent clashes occurred across the city on Sunday, with authorities reporting that at least 150 people were injured over the course of the weekend. Later, in scenes aired live on national television, heavyweight boxing champion-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko called for a renewed push to bring down the government of Viktor Yanukovych.
"We are setting up a tent city on Independence Square... and launching a national strike," said Klitschko, who leads the opposition Udar (Punch) party. “We have to mobilize the country and must not lose the initiative," said Klitschko "Our goal today is a complete regime change in Ukraine."
The crowd had driven police from the square - the focal point of the 2004 Orange Revolution – and demolished barricades outside the presidential administration office using a bulldozer.
Protests were triggered by President Yanukovych's refusal to sign an agreement with the European Union that would have deepened bilateral political cooperation and free trade.
'Violence should have no place'
In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for restraint on both sides, but added that it was "the right of people everywhere to express their views in a democratic way."
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki urged the authorities to respect the right to free expression, adding that "violence and intimidation should have no place in today's Ukraine."
The protests have gained in strength since an EU summit in Lithuania at which the deal was to have been signed on Friday.
Yanukovych justified his decision by saying Ukraine could not afford to break trade ties with Russia. He has condemned the use of force against the opposition protesters.
The association agreement deal with the EU would have allowed Ukraine to sign a trade deal with Europe in the near future. EU leaders said the trade pact would bolster the Ukrainian economy by some 6 percent and save Ukrainian businesses 500 million euros ($680 million) a year in import duties.
rc/ccp (AFP, dpa, Reuters)