Kiev - Ukrainian security forces stormed Kiev's Independence Square on Wednesday, occupying an area protesters had held for over a week and removing their barricades in a move that sparked immediate international concern.
Opponents of President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of an EU pact were still holding night-time protests on the square when elite Berkut anti-riot police and interior ministry special forces moved against them at around 02:00.
Thousands of anti-riot police surrounded the square and then entered the area, using their sheer numbers to force the demonstrators away from the road running through the square, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
The police also smashed down the barricades that the protesters had put up around the square and ripped down several of their tents.
However the protesters re-grouped around the main stage set up on one sector of the square, with their numbers increasing by the minute as opposition leaders urged people to rush to the square.
'Spitting in the face'
Ukraine's pro-opposition Channel 5 said there were now 10 000 protestors on Independence Square after the police actions in what appeared to be an increasingly chaotic situation.
Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk called for a million-strong protest in Kiev after the police actions, predicting that the regime of Yanukovych would fall.
"We will not forgive this. Here there will be millions and his regime is going to collapse," Yatsenyuk, the leader of the party of jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko, told the protesters on Independence Square.
"Yanukovych spat in the face of the United States and the EU member states," he said as protesters chanted "out with the gang!"
Thousands of protesters had been defying sub-freezing temperatures to remain overnight on the square in protests that started almost three weeks ago.
'Kievans rise up'
"Kievans rise up! Only together can we win our right to live in a free country," world boxing champion and leader of the UDAR (Punch) opposition party Vitali Klitshcko told the protesters.
Police at the scene said their aim was not to disperse the entire protest but to free up Kiev's main Khreshchatyk Street, that passes through the middle of the square for traffic.
"Police are working in co-operation with the Kiev municipal services to remove the barricades blocking the passage," a Kiev police spokesperson told AFP.
The leader of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) movement, Oleg Tyagnybok said that several protesters had been injured and the authorities had detained 11 people.
Despite the actions of the police, the demonstration continued as more protesters arrived and Ukrainian pop anthems made famous during the 2004 Orange Revolution blared through loudspeakers.