Ukraine's ex-minister and opposition leader beaten in fresh Kiev clashes

KIEV (AFP)- Ukraine's ex-interior minister and current opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko is in intensive care in hospital on Saturday after being beaten in fresh clashes that erupted between pro-European Union demonstrators and club-wielding police.

Dozens of nationalist demonstrators protested late Friday outside a Kiev court that had earlier in the day sentenced three men to six years in prison for allegedly plotting to blow up a statue of Soviet founder Lenin near the city's main airport in 2011.

Ukrainian television showed several protesters being carried by stretcher to an ambulance that had been rushed to the scene.

Russian state television said the anti-riot troops moved in after being pelted with rocks by protesters who were trying to block police vans as the three convicts were being led out of the court in order to be placed in jail.

Ukrainian opposition news sites published photographs and video images of Mr Lutsenko with his head bandaged and a large patch over his right eye.

His wife Irina said her husband had suffered a concussion and head injuries after being attacked by club-wielding police while he was trying to break up the unfolding violence.

"He has been placed in intensive care. They are going to keep him under observation," she told Ukraine's opposition Hromadske television channel.

Ukrainian nationalists have been a driving force behind anti-government protests that erupted in November after President Viktor Yanukovych ditched a historic EU trade agreement in favour of closer ties with old master Russia.

The rallies were fanned further by anger over violence that broke out when hundreds of officers beat dozens of demonstrators while trying to clear them off Kiev's iconic Independence Square on November 30.

The latest clash in Kiev drew no immediate response from Mr Yanukovych or his government members.

But they threaten to fuel rallies that began to fizzle out last month when Mr Yanukovych signed a US$15-billion (S$19-billion) economic bailout agreement with Moscow that also slashed the price Ukraine pays for Russian gas imports.

Mr Lutsenko was a prominent member of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's pro-Western government and remains a close ally of the jailed opposition leader.

The 49-year-old was himself put in prison on contested charges in late 2010 and pardoned by Mr Yanukovych under EU pressure in April 2013.

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