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Police assault turns Kiev protest camp into war zone

Agence France-Presse. Kiev / New Age Online

Viktor Yanukovych. -- AFP photoViktor Yanukovych. -- AFP photo

Protesters dug up paving stones and hurled Molotov cocktails in a desperate attempt to repel a police onslaught against their camp on Kiev's Independence Square on Wednesday.
A wall of smoke and flames rose up as lines of riot police and protesters, both clutching shields and clad in helmets and body armour, faced off across a fire-strewn no man's land.
The iconic square, the heart of three months of anti-government protests, turned into a war zone as clashes dragged on throughout the night.
Explosions echoed around central Kiev as police hurled stun grenades at demonstrators and sent in armoured water cannon, one of which protesters set alight.
Part of what had been a bustling tent city just hours earlier was turned into ash and rags as fire ate up the canvas shelters that had housed protesters demanding President Viktor Yanukovych leave power after he rejected closer ties with the EU in favour of Russia.
Flames also tore through several floors of the last remaining opposition stronghold overlooking the square and protesters burned tyres and anything wooden they could find to create a dense smokescreen between them and police.
Television footage from the scene showed protesters capturing several riot police in fierce clashes before dragging them away through the crowd as demonstrators aimed punches at them.
Amid the carnage, protesters said that they were committed to defending the last bastion of the rebellion against Yanukovych's rule.
"Whatever happens we have to defend Maidan until the end," said Petro Olinyk, a 50-year-old demonstrator from central Ukraine.
Others told the country's authorities to end the assault and listen to protesters' demands if they wanted to avoid the violence spiralling out of control.
"If we want Ukraine to remain a united country then the government must negotiate," Vladimir, 38, told AFP.
Opposition medics said that the bodies of at least four protesters killed during the assault had been brought into their makeshift clinics.
That bought to at least 16 the number of people killed in the clashes since Tuesday morning, the bloodiest outburst of violence in the nearly three months of protests.
As the assault began police warned women and children through loudspeakers to leave the area saying that they were launching "an anti-terrorist" operation. But thousands of people remained on the square.
As the assault raged, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said that protesters "were not going anywhere".
"This a small island of freedom," the former heavyweight boxer told the crowd.
Klitschko later met with Yanukovych but said that the president had refused to call off the assault on the protest camp.
As fighting raged, priests, performers and speakers still took to the stage on the square with loud speakers continuing to blare out stirring renditions of Ukraine's national anthem, folk songs and prayers.
Kiev was in essential lockdown as authorities halted the city's metro system earlier in the day and limited road traffic coming into the capital from midnight (2200 GMT).




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