Kiev protesters face off with police as president orders talks

Protesters hold Molotov cocktails during clashes with the police in the centre of Kiev on Jan 20, 2014. Opposition protesters were Monday locked in a tense standoff with Ukrainian police in Kiev after bloody clashes that wounded over 200 people,
Protesters hold Molotov cocktails during clashes with the police in the centre of Kiev on Jan 20, 2014. Opposition protesters were Monday locked in a tense standoff with Ukrainian police in Kiev after bloody clashes that wounded over 200 people, as President Viktor Yanukovych called emergency talks to resolve the crisis. -- PHOTO: AFP

KIEV (AFP) - Opposition protesters were Monday locked in a tense standoff with Ukrainian police in Kiev after bloody clashes that wounded over 200 people, as President Viktor Yanukovych called emergency talks to resolve the crisis.

The clashes, the worst in Kiev in recent times, came amid mounting anger over laws restricting protests signed by Mr Yanukovych after almost two months of demonstrations against his refusal to sign a pact for integration with the EU.

A special commission set up by Mr Yanukovych was due to meet representatives of the opposition on Monday for emergency talks, but it was unclear if this could help ease the crisis, with parts of central Kiev resembling a battlefield.

In near apocalyptic scenes close to parliament and the iconic Dynamo Kiev football stadium, protesters torched several police buses and vehicles late Sunday.

Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannon.

After a night of violence that continued into the early hours, thousands of protesters came to the streets Monday morning despite temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius.

The situation remained tense with protesters launching occasional charges against the police line guarding the passage to government buildings, throwing stones or Molotov cocktails.

"We are going to stay here until our demands are met on the annulment of the laws" restricting protests, said protester Yaroslav Pyutilin, 46.

According to the Kiev health authorities, more than 100 protesters were wounded in the clashes, with four people sustaining serious injuries to eyes and limbs. The interior ministry said more than 100 members of the security forces had been wounded.

The burned-out wrecks of the police buses were now used by the protesters as a barricade beyond which there were hundreds of riot police wearing helmets and carrying shields. Protesters equipped themselves with ad hoc shields made of metal sheeting and wooden sticks in anticipation of further clashes with police.

The area echoed with the thud of stun grenades and the deafening drumming of groups of mostly elderly protesters with sticks on metal.

The ministry added that 20 people had been arrested for mass rioting.

US-funded Ukrainian radio station Radio Svoboda said two of its journalists had been arrested Monday morning while filming at the scene.

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