Anti-Government Protests In Ukraine Turn Deadly

February 18, 2014

This post was updated at 3:02 p.m. ET

Police in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, attacked an opposition camp that’s been the center of the massive anti-government protests that began last November. The Associated Press said police dismantled barricades on the perimeter of Independence Square, and set some of the protesters’ tents there on fire. (You can watch a livestream of what’s happening in Kiev here).

Earlier Tuesday, the protests against the government turned deadly. At least nine people were killed and dozens injured in violent battles between the demonstrators and riot police. Kiev police said the dead included two police officers. News reports said seven protesters were killed.

Reporter David Stern, who is in the Ukrainian capital, tells NPR’s Robert Siegel that Tuesday’s violence is an escalation.

“The situation seems to be escalating even further, which is probably what most people are worried about most of all because it doesn’t seem it will ever end,” he says, “and there is a question of what will happen to Ukraine as a whole if this does spread … beyond the capital.”

At issue is Ukraine’s future direction. Late last year, President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow, leading to protests against his government.

The New York Times reports on Tuesday’s unrest:

“The violence began early on Tuesday when antigovernment activists moved out of their barricaded zone around Independence Square and advanced into a government-controlled district, battling riot police officers with stones and Molotov cocktails in the worst clashes in nearly a month. A group of young militants occupied and set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Party of Regions. …

“Much of the violence early Tuesday took place along Instyuts’ka Street near Ukraine’s Parliament building and the main offices of the government. Protesters hurled stones at police officers sheltering behind a barricade of blazing vehicles while ambulances, sirens wailing, rushed to help people injured in the clashes.”

Law enforcement officials had set a deadline for protesters to clear out Tuesday, and as darkness fell over Kiev, news reports said police advanced on the protesters, using water cannons to disperse demonstrators near Independence Square. But, the AP noted, “the 20,000 demonstrators fought back, armed with rocks, bats and fire bombs, and singing the Ukrainian national anthem.”

The U.S. appeared to target both sides with criticism. Here’s a tweet from Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. envoy to Kiev:

Polls show Ukrainians evenly divided in the views of the protests.

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