- POSTED: 11 Dec 2013 08:50
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Ukrainian security forces began moving against protesters on Kiev's Independence Square early Wednesday, ripping down their tents and occupying the area, an AFP correspondent said.
KIEV: Ukrainian security forces stormed Kiev's Independence Square early Wednesday, occupying the area protesters had held for over a week and ripping down their tents.
Thousands of Berkut anti-riot police surrounded the square and then entered the area, using their sheer numbers to force the demonstrators away, an AFP correspondent said.
The police also smashed down the barricades that the protesters had put up around the Independence Square, which they have occupied without the presence of security forces until now.
Thousands of protesters had been defying sub-freezing temperatures to protest President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of an EU pact in protests that started almost three weeks ago.
The move came as top diplomats from the EU and United States were in Kiev in a bid to resolve the standoff.
There was no sign of any violence but the security forces herded the thousands of protesters who had remained on the square into two separate groups, the correspondent said.
Protesters urged each other through the loudspeaker system not to use violence against the security forces on Independence Square, known as the Maidan in Kiev.
"We follow events in and around Maidan at this moment with great concern. Repression is not way forward for Ukraine - reform should be," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter in one of the first international reactions.
Yanukovych had on Tuesday accused the pro-European opposition of posing a threat to national security.
The storming of the Maidan came after the president held talks Tuesday with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and his three predecessors in Kiev.
"Substantial meeting (with) President Yanukovych, all relevant issues discussed," Ashton's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic added on Twitter, saying the talks lasted three and a half hours but giving no further details.
In a sign of Europe's support for the demonstrators, Ashton later personally visited the epicentre of the protests on Independence Square in Kiev, an AFP correspondent said.
Arm-in-arm with opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk who gave her a guided tour of the protest camp, Ashton was given a rousing welcome by the protesters who chanted "Europe!" in unison.
US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was also in Kiev and expected to hold talks with Yanukovych.
Yanukovych had earlier convened Ukraine's ex-leaders Leonid Kuchma, Leonid Kravchuk and Viktor Yushchenko for an unprecedented meeting at the presidential administration.
"Calls for a revolution pose a threat to national security," Yanukovych said in comments broadcast on national television. "I want that this dark page is turned and is never allowed to happen again."
Yanukovych's decision to scrap key trade and political agreements with the EU and police violence against protesters have plunged the ex-Soviet country into its most acute political crisis since the Orange Revolution in 2004.
Opposition leaders said they would not negotiate with Yanukovych until he sacked the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, released arrested demonstrators and punished riot police accused of crushing a protest on November 30.
Ex-presidents Kuchma and Kravchuk pointedly noted during the meeting that prime ministers had stepped down before, and indicated that Azarov could do the same.
"Civil society is now awaiting a signal from the president," said Kuchma, Ukraine's president between 1994 and 2004. Yanukovych made no public comment on the fate of the government.
On Sunday, hundreds of thousands filled Independence Square, and dozens of masked protesters tore down a statue of Lenin.
Ukraine's Security Service opened an investigation into an alleged attempt to seize power, in an apparent bid by the state to target key opposition figures.
Several hundred were injured a week ago when a major demonstration degenerated into violence, the largest clashes in Ukraine's post-Soviet history.
The party of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said Monday armed law enforcement officers had raided its headquarters, taking away documents and computer servers.