KIEV, Ukraine — Defiant protesters shouted “Glory to Ukraine” as burning tents lit up the night sky after thousands of riot police moved against the sprawling protest camp in the center of Kiev yesterday.
The police, armed with stun grenades and water cannons, attacked the camp after at least 13 people — including six officers — died and hundreds were injured in street clashes. The violence was the deadliest in nearly three months of anti-government protests that have paralyzed Ukraine’s capital in a struggle over the nation’s identity.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged the 20,000 protesters to defend the camp on Independence Square.
“We will not go anywhere from here,” Klitschko told the crowd, speaking from a stage in the square as fires burned around him, releasing huge plumes of smoke into the night sky. “This is an island of freedom, and we will defend it,” he said.
Many heeded his call.
“This looks like a war against one’s own people,” said Dmytro Shulko, 35, who was heading toward the camp armed with a fire bomb. “But we will defend ourselves.”
As police dismantled some of the barricades on the perimeter of the square and tried to push away the protesters, they fought back with rocks, bats and fire bombs. Many of the protesters were bleeding.
Speaking over loudspeakers, police urged women and children to leave the square because an “anti-terrorist” operation was underway.
The protesters appeared to sense that Ukraine’s political standoff was reaching a critical turning point. As the tents and also some tires went up in flames, defiant protesters shouted “Glory to Ukraine!” and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.
Shortly before midnight, Klitschko headed to President Viktor Yanukovych’s office to try to resolve the crisis, his spokeswoman said.
Earlier in the day, protesters attacked police lines and set fires outside parliament, accusing Yanukovych of once again ignoring their demands and dragging his feet on a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.