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Police abandon Kiev standoff

- After bulldozing camp, forces pull out

Kiev, Dec. 11 (Reuters): Battalions of Ukrainian riot police withdrew today from a protest camp after moving against demonstrators overnight in the authorities’ biggest attempt yet to reclaim streets after weeks of protests against President Viktor Yanukovich.

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

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

Those moves by hundreds of black-clad police with visors and helmets were the boldest steps the authorities had ordered so far against demonstrators, although it was not clear whether they were prepared to use full force.

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 shed blood. Opposition politicians called for mass demonstrations to protect the square.

The police moves began in darkness near Independence Square, where thousands of protesters have maintained a vigil in bitter winter cold.

Riot police flooded roads to square and moved slowly into the main camp, bulldozing tents and barricades with tractors mounted with shovels. Dozens of demonstrators and police were hurt in scuffles but several officers said they had orders not to use force.

The action appeared to stall as day broke, with temperatures in the snowbound capital stuck at minus 8 degrees Celsius. Some riot police left to cheers from lines of protesters holding them back.

 
 
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