KYIV, Ukraine — Protesters and opposition leaders in Kyiv claimed victory Wednesday after police pulled back from overnight attempts to clear the main square in Ukraine's capital.
The security forces tore down the barricades that the protesters had erected around Independence Square. The demonstrators are angry that President Viktor Yanukovych's rejected an EU pact under Russian pressure.
Thousands of armored police seized control of part of the square by forming a human chain but the demonstration continued as before over much of the area with more protesters arriving as morning broke.
— David M. Herszenhorn (@herszenhorn) December 11, 2013
Their numbers swelled to more than 10,000 after the police action, and dozens formed human walls to prevent more riot police from entering the square from adjoining roads.
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The protesters sang the Ukrainian national anthem and shouted "Shame!"
About daybreak on maidan, some parts holding as if no police presence at all pic.twitter.com/QI0AF61UGA
— Dan Peleschuk (@dpeleschuk) December 11, 2013
Police at the scene said their aim was not to disperse the entire protest but to free up Kyiv's main Khreshchatyk Street — that passes through the middle of the square — for traffic.
"I want to calm everyone down — there will be no dispersal," Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko said on the ministry's website. "No one is encroaching on the rights of citizens to peaceful protest."
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The leader of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) movement Oleg Tyagnybok said that several protesters had been injured and the authorities had detained 11 people.
US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed "disgust" over the crackdown, which came as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland were in Kyiv for talks with all parties to find a way out of the crisis.
The police action came just hours after Yanukovych held talks with Ashton and prompted swift personal condemnation from Kerry.
Kerry said Washington "expresses its 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."
"This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy," he added.
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On Tuesday, Yanukovych hinted he would free protesters jailed during the recent police crackdown and reconsider pursuing agreements with the European Union, whose shelving helped spark the demonstrations.
Yanukovych also said he was dispatching top officials to Brussels on Wednesday to scope out the possibility for signing the agreement with the EU next spring.
Yanukovych did not directly address one key demand of the protesters: The government's ouster.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.
The Associated Press released this raw video from the scene last night: