Police in Ukraine have used tear gas to force back protesters during violent demonstrations in the capital Kyiv. At least 100,000 turned out in a show of anger at the president's refusal to sign an agreement with the EU.
The protesters, singing the national anthem and chanting "Ukraine is Europe," marched on Sunday to Kyiv's Independence Square, the scene of a brutal police crackdown on demonstrators a day before.
The crowd reportedly removed metal barriers set up by authorities to block off the square, driving away police stationed there. There are as many as 100,000 people taking part in the rally, making it the largest since protests began more than a week ago.
In the afternoon, a few thousand protesters tried to storm the nearby presidential administration building with a front loader, leading riot police to retaliate with tear gas, truncheons and flash grenades.
Protetesters are calling for President Viktor Yanukovych to step down and for elections to be held.
The demonstration is being carried out in defiance of a protest ban in central Kyiv and warnings from the interior minister that police would respond if there was "mass disorder."
"Do we want to go the way of Libya, Tunis? If there are calls (from the opposition) for mass disorder, then we will react," Vitaly Zakharchenko told Interfax news agency.
Early on Saturday morning, Ukrainian police used rubber truncheons to brutally disperse hundreds of protesters left over from a much larger rally on Friday evening. Dozens of people were injured.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has called on Ukraine to protect peaceful protesters and grant them the right to demonstrate.
"I vigorously call on the Ukrainian government to ensure freedom of assembly and to protect the peaceful demonstrators from any kind of intimidation and violence," Westerwelle said in a statement.
"We share their wish to quickly bring Ukraine closer to the European Union," he said, adding: "Our offer for that stands."
Ukraine has experienced more than a week of daily protests after President Yanukovych decided not to sign an agreement with the European Union that would have deepened bilateral political cooperation and free trade. The protests have gained in strength since an EU summit in Lithuania at which the deal was to have been signed on Friday.
Yanukovych justified his decision by saying Ukraine could not afford to break trade ties with Russia. He has condemned the use of force against the opposition protesters.
He has also been quoted by Interfax news agency as saying, "I will do everything in my power to accelerate the process of moving Ukraine closer to the European Union."
The association agreement deal with the EU would have allowed Ukraine to sign a trade deal with Europe in the near future. EU leaders said the trade pact would bolster the Ukrainian economy by some 6 per cent and save Ukrainian businesses 500 million euros ($680 million) a year in import duties.
tj,jr/mz (AFP, AP, Reuters)
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