Overnight Ukrainian police stormed parts of Kyiv’s Independence Square where anti- government protesters have been holed up for several weeks, but pulled back as daylight came.
Just after midnight, officers dressed in full riot gear began dismantling barricades which activists had set up in their campaign to get the government to reverse its decision to pull out of a trade pact with the EU.
Protesters had been expecting some sort of police response but when it came it was still a shock. Scuffles broke out and several people were injured.
“It’s pure provocation, against a peaceful protest,” said one protester. “We are here without any arms. How can you act like that against peaceful people in our country?”
Another group of older campaigners said: “We are here as a human shield to separate the special forces on one side, and our hot heads. We hope we can restrain one from attacking and the others from responding.”
Ukraine’s special forces herded protesters into the centre of the square. As more people turned out to support the activists, the two sides ended up facing each other down.
At the main protest camp on Independence Square, pop stars, politicians and priests pleaded with police not to shed blood.
Then just before dawn, police suddenly stopped operations and during the morning they left positions around the protesters’ main camp and moved away from government buildings occupied by demonstrators.
Opposition politicians called for mass demonstrations to protect the square and predicted that President Viktor Yanukovich would soon be toppled.
The interior minister called for calm and said the square would not be stormed.