Hundreds of police have stormed a protest camp in the Ukrainian capital, clashing with protesters as they tried to dismantle barricades.
Protesters shouted “Shame!” and “We will stand!” and sang the Ukrainian national anthem.
The storming of the camp at Independence Square came despite a visit by two senior Western diplomats to try to defuse a weeks-long stand-off between the opposition and president Viktor Yanukovych.
The police tried to dismantle barricades surrounding the camp but then moved back after resistance from protesters.
The police took up positions on the perimeters of the camp, then began clashing with demonstrators and trying again to dismantle the barricades.
The protests began in late November when Mr Yanukovych backed away from a deal that would deepen the former Soviet republic’s economic ties with the 28-nation EU – a pact that surveys showed was supported by nearly half the country’s people.
The agreement would make Ukraine more Western-oriented and would be a significant loss of face for Russia, which has either controlled or heavily influenced Ukraine for centuries.
The confrontation at the protest camp unfolded as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland were in the city to try to talk to the government and the opposition and work out a solution.
Earlier yesterday Mr Yanukovych promised that some demonstrators arrested in the massive protests would be released in a bid to defuse the political stand-off which is threatening his leadership.
Mr Yanukovych also vowed to renew talks with the European Union on the trade and political agreement, after his refusal to sign the deal last month prompted the biggest protests since 2004’s pro-democracy Orange Revolution, some drawing hundreds of thousands of people to Kiev’s streets.
Mr Yanukovych indicated he was still prepared to sign the deal at a summit in spring, but only if the EU could offer better financial terms.
“We want to achieve conditions which satisfy Ukraine, Ukrainian producers, the Ukrainian people,” he said in a televised meeting with his three predecessors meant to find a solution to the stand-off.
“If we find understanding and if such compromises are reached, the signature will be put.”
Scuffles broke out between riot police and opposition politicians who arrived to defend the camp.
One protester undressed to his waist, got down on his knees and shouted “Stop this ... We are one people.”
An opposition politician laid down on the snow to try to block a police vehicle from advancing to the camp.
Several protesters were injured. Some policemen helped injured activists up from the ground and moved them away.
Riot police have twice previously dispersed demonstrators with clubs and tear gas, beating some severely enough to send them to intensive care.