(KIEV, Ukraine) -- Violence between police and anti-government protesters in Kiev took a deadly turn Tuesday -- with at least seven civilians and two police officers reportedly killed.
As an evening deadline for rioters to disperse passed, police were reportedly seen encircling tens of thousands of protesters who have occupied a central square for months.
Earlier in the day, clashes broke out as crowds tried to march towards parliament. Young men wearing ski masks and helmets attacked the police with sticks, stones, and Molotov cocktails, according to local news reports.
Police hid behind metal shields and fought back with batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades. Witnesses reportedly said police divided the crowds and beat some of the protesters.
Burning tires left black smoke billowing that could be seen from miles away.
Hundreds were reported injured, according to opposition figures.
As evening fell, protest leaders called on followers to rush to Maidan Square, but, anticipating violence, urged women and children to leave. According to the Russian news agency Interfax, some 20,000 people remained in the square as the deadline passed. The protesters lit up the sky by launching fireworks at the police lines.
Embattled President Viktor Yanukovich has pledged to meet with opposition leaders on Wednesday morning, according to Interfax.
The clashes came as opposition lawmakers tried to change the constitution to limit President Viktor Yanukovich’s powers. Lawmakers said those efforts were stymied.
This was the worst violence in Kiev in weeks and comes after months of protests against Yanukovich. The protests erupted in late November after the Ukrainian president backed away from a plan to strike a trade deal with the European Union. Instead, he bowed to Russian pressure and pledged to join a Russia-led customs union. Moscow also offered Ukraine billions of dollars in badly needed loans as the country faces default.
Most of the protesters come from Ukraine’s western half, while Yanukovich’s Russian-speaking base in the industrial eastern half have largely remained loyal.
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