For the second time in a week, Ukrainian police have moved on a large protest camp in the center of Kyiv. The move comes despite a visit by a top EU diplomat to defuse the weeks-long upheaval.
Thousands of police stormed the protest camp at Independence Square in the capital Kyiv early Wednesday, removing barricades and forcing them away from the area.
Protesters urged each other over a loudspeaker not to use violence against the security forces as they herded the demonstrators who had stayed on the square into two separate groups, an AFP correspondent said.
Thousands of protesters had been defying sub-freezing temperatures for almost three weeks to protest against President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of an EU pact.
The move follows another attempt on Monday by police to break up the protests in the square.
It comes despite a visit by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to Kyiv. Ashton met with Yanukovych for talks which her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said had been "substantial" and that "all relevant issues [were] discussed" during the three-and-a-half hour meeting.
In a sign of Europe's support for the demonstrators, Ashton personally visited the protests on Independence Square. Ashton was given a rousing welcome by the demonstrators who chanted “Europe!”
Yanukovych under pressure
Earlier on Tuesday, Yanukovych asked the prosecutor-general to release some of the demonstrators arrested for their part in mass protests against the government.
The president has come increasingly under pressure, with both jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko - the former heavyweight boxing world champion - vocal in their criticism of his leadership. Yanukovych has called for a round-table discussion between opposition leaders and former presidents, but Klitschko said he would only attend if early elections were offered.
In a televised meeting with three former Ukraine presidents, Yanukovych said a deal between Ukraine and the EU could still be signed in March, but only if better financial terms were offered. He said the country stood to lose billions in trade with Russia - regarded as a key agent in the breakdown of talks - if an EU deal was signed.
"We want to achieve conditions that satisfy Ukraine, Ukrainian producers, the Ukrainian people," he said in the meeting. "If we find understanding and if such compromises are reached, the signature will be put [on paper]."
He stressed financial concerns were at the heart of the matter: "Any reforms require funding. When there is not enough funding, the reforms are slowed down."
hc/lw (Reuters, AFP, AP)