The European Union and United States have called for calm after Ukraine's anti-government protesters and riot police clashed in central Kiev.
Demonstrators hurled petrol bombs, stones and sticks at massed ranks of police in helmets and body armour, who responded with volleys of teargas and stun grenades to prevent protesters moving from Kiev’s Independence Square towards parliament and government headquarters. Dozens of protesters and police were injured.
The violence erupted after two months of peaceful protests in Kiev and other cities, against president Viktor Yanukovich's decision to reject a deal to move Ukraine closer to the EU in favour of repairing ties with Russia.
Having waned somewhat over the holiday season, the anti-government movement gained new momentum this week when Mr Yanukovich approved sweeping laws to ban most protest activity.
About 100,000 people on Independence Square listened to speeches from opposition leaders yesterday, but for the first time some were jeered, in an apparent frustration at politicians’ inability to translate widespread dissent into effective action against Mr Yanukovich and his allies.
The clashes broke out soon afterwards, despite appeals for restraint from the stage. "We call on people not to aggravate an already very difficult and dangerous situation," Jan Tombinski, the EU's ambassador to Ukraine, wrote on the mission's Facebook page. "Attacking police may give reason to those who don't advocate a political solution of the crisis."
The US embassy in Kiev called “on all sides to cease any acts provoking or resulting in violence. We further urge the government of Ukraine to immediately start negotiations with all sides to resolve the political standoff.”
As hundreds of people – many wearing masks and helmets in contravention of the new protest law — jostled with police, opposition leader Vitaliy Klitschko stood between the lines and called on demonstrators to calm down. He also urged Mr Yanukovich to "not go down the same road as [Nicolae] Ceausescu and [Muammar] Gadafy. Stop waging war on the citizens of Ukraine.", a reference to brutal Romanian and Libyan leaders who were killed during revolutions. The former boxer was sprayed with a fire extinguisher.
Nestor Shufrich, a deputy from the ruling Regions Party, said the situation was "getting out of control and responsibility for everything happening on Kiev's streets lies exclusively with the opposition leaders."