KIEV, Ukraine — Security forces clashed with protesters as they began tearing down opposition barricades and tents set up in the center of the Ukrainian capital early today, in an escalation of the weekslong standoff threatening the leadership of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Several thousand police in riot gear used their shields to push back protesters and removed some of the tents and barricades. But thousands of protesters put up fierce resistance for hours, shoving back at the police lines to keep them away from the center of the protest camp on Independence Square in downtown Kiev.
The protests began in late November when Yanukovych backed away from a pact that would deepen the former Soviet republic's economic ties with the 28-nation European Union — a pact that surveys showed was supported by nearly half the country's people. The agreement would make Ukraine more Western-oriented and represent a significant loss of face for Russia.
Scuffles broke out between police and opposition lawmakers, one of whom laid down on the snow trying to block a vehicle from advancing on the camp.
Several protesters were injured. Some policemen helped injured activists up from the ground and moved them away. The Interior Ministry said 10 policemen also sustained injuries in the scuffle.
After some of the barricades and tents were dismantled, police and city workers began to remove debris with bulldozers.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a strong statement, expressing the United States' "disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest … with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity."