US, EU chide Ukraine after police action against protesters

US, EU chide Ukraine after police action against protesters

US, EU chide Ukraine after police action against protesters

Riot policemen clash with protesters on Independence Square in Kiev, on Dec 11, 2013. Ukrainian security forces on Dec 11 stormed Kiev's Independence Square which protesters have occupied for over a week but the demonstrators defiantly refused to leave and resisted the police in a tense standoff. AFP PHOTO

The United States and the European Union continued to increase diplomatic pressure on Ukraine over harsh police treatment against protesters, after riot police finally withdrew from a protest camp.

Columns of police left positions Dec. 11 around the protesters’ main camp in Independence Square and withdrew from state buildings occupied by demonstrators, who are enraged at President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to spurn an EU trade deal and move Ukraine further into Russia’s orbit.

Overnight, the police had cleared the streets near the protest camp, bulldozed tents and skirmished with demonstrators. They later surrounded the City Hall, where protesters had set up a makeshift hospital in the occupied building and sprayed the stairs with water hoses to prevent it from being stormed.

The actions committed by hundreds of black-clad police with visors and helmets were the boldest steps the authorities had ordered against the demonstrators so far.


U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European
and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland (C)
distributes bread to protesters next to U.S.
Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. REUTERS photo

The EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland were both in Kiev, as part of a diplomatic campaign to lure Ukraine back westwards. Nuland met both the protesters and Yanukovych. After two hours of talks with the president, she said she had complained to him about tactics that were “absolutely impermissible” in a democratic society.

“We also made clear we believe there is a way out for Ukraine and it is still possible to save Ukraine’s European future. That’s what we want to see the president lead and that’s going to require immediate security steps,” Nuland added.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also condemned the authorities’ response to the protest in a strongly worded statement.

“The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kiev’s Independence Square 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,” Kerry said.

The EU’s Ashton, who met Yanukovich for more than three hours on Dec. 10 and was due to meet him again Dec. 11, expressed her “sadness” in a statement.

“I observe with sadness that police used force to remove peaceful people from the center of Kiev. The authorities did not need to act under the cover of night to engage with society by using police,” she said.

At stake is the future of a country of 46 million people, torn between popular hope of joining the European mainstream and the demands of former Soviet master Russia, which controls the flow of cheap natural gas needed to stave off descent into bankruptcy. At the main protest camp on Independence Square, pop stars, politicians and priests pleaded with police not to spill blood. Opposition politicians called for mass demonstrations to protect the square and predicted that Yanukovych would soon be toppled.

The interior minister called for calm and said the square would not be stormed. “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 peacefully protest.