Ukraine protest turns deadly as anti-government protesters clash with riot police

SHARE Ukraine protest turns deadly as anti-government protesters clash with riot police

A demonstrator holds a chain and riot police shield. Sergei Supinsky/Getty Images

The Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Two people were shot to death early Wednesday in anti-government protests in Ukraine, the first fatalities in the increasingly heated clashes with police in the streets of the Ukrainian capital, raising concerns that the movement is spiraling into a more dangerous phase of violence.

Ukrainian police on Wednesday stormed protesters’ barricades in Kiev amid violent clashes that left five activists dead, the first fatalities in two months of anti-government protests. | Oleksandr Ratushniak/Getty Images

The protesters’ deaths fueled fears that daily protests aimed at bringing down the government over its decision to shun the European Union for closer ties to Moscow and over human rights violations could turn even more violent.

Protesters throw tires onto a fire during clashes with police in central Kiev. | Sergei Grits/AP Photo

The mass protests erupted after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych spurned a pact with the European Union in favor of close ties with Russia, which offered him a $15 billion bailout. They swelled to hundreds of thousands after a small peaceful rally was violently broken up by police. Seeing the government ignore their demands and opposition leaders unable to present a coherent plan or even select a single leader, radical protesters have clashed with riot police in Kiev since Sunday.

Policemen arrest protesters during clashes in the center of Kiev on January 22. | Sergei Grits/AP Photo

The deaths came on the fourth day of violent street battles between protesters hurling fire bombs and stones and police firing back with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The bodies were found before police moved to tear down protesters’ barricades near official buildings in central Kiev and chased demonstrators away.

A protester waves a Ukrainian national flag in front of police line in central Kiev on Wednesday. | Sergei Grits/AP Photo

Helmeted riot police moved in on hundreds of protesters, dismantling the barricades, beating many with truncheons and firing shots at some. One man was attacked by over a dozen policemen, was made to take off his winter jacket and dragged away, where he was beaten again. Dark smoke from burning tires billowed in the air and an armored vehicle was seen near police lines.

Tires burn in the street, set alight by protesters in clashes with police in central Kiev. | Sergei Grits/AP Photo

The police drove demonstrators down a hill toward the main protest site on Independence Square, where protesters have set up an extensive tent camp and rallied around the clock since November. There was no immediate police move on the main camp.

A protester shoots fireworks at police. | Voldoymyr Shuvayev/Getty Images

Oleksandr Turchynov, one of the opposition leaders, called on Ukrainians to rush to the center of Kiev to defend their country. “Ukraine will not be a dictatorship, it will be an independent, European country. Let us defend Ukraine!”

A riot police officer aims at demonstrators during clashes between protestors and police in Kiev. | Yuriv Kirnichny/Getty Images

The protests were the biggest since the peaceful 2004 Orange Revolution, which annulled Yanukovych’s fraud-tinged victory in a presidential vote and forced a new vote that brought his pro-Western rival to power. The current protests were also largely peaceful for nearly two months, but turned violent after Yanukovych, elected in 2010, pushed through sweeping anti-protest legislation and ignored all the protesters’ demands. The deaths mark a turning point in the stand-off that could lead to more violence.

Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo

Sergei Chuzavkov/AP Photo

Evgeny Feldman/AP Photo

Evgeny Feldman/AP Photo

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