KIEV, November 24 (RIA Novosti) – Ukraine’s riot police used tear gas and batons against pro-European integration protesters when some of them tried to break through a police cordon to the central entrance of the Cabinet’s building in downtown Kiev, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported from the site Sunday.
Kiev police confirmed the use of tear gas but said they used it selectively against those protesters who also used tear gas or threw smoke bombs at them, Ukrainian media reported.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators backing EU integration and a separate group of protesters against it assembled in the Ukrainian capital on Sunday in reaction to the government’s decision earlier this week to suspend landmark agreements with Brussels and turn to Russia instead.
Police put the number of pro-EU protesters at about 22,000, the Unian news agency reported citing Kiev police. An opposition MP from the Fatherland parliamentary faction, Oleksandr Turchynov, said some 100,000 gathered on European Square.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said a riot policeman was injured when unknown assailants threw two stones from the crowd.
The Ukrainian government announced November 21 it was halting plans to sign long-discussed trade and association deals with the European Union, because of the damage it would do to trade with Russia. In an announcement that stunned Europe, it said it would seek closer cooperation with Russia and the Moscow-led Customs Union that also comprises Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The EU blamed unprecedented Russian pressure on Kiev for the Ukrainian decision, but Moscow denied any strong-arm tactics.
Earlier this year, Moscow suspended imports of some Ukrainian goods and warned that preferential trade agreements with Ukraine would end if it signed the EU deals.
Jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko called on protesters Sunday to stay in the center of Kiev until the EU summit in Vilnius, due November 28-29.
On Friday, Tymoshenko called on the government to review its decision to suspend the landmark deals with the EU.
Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday rejected draft laws aimed at allowing Tymoshenko to seek medical treatment abroad, which EU officials had stipulated as a condition for the agreements with Kiev to go ahead.
Tymoshenko was in 2011 sentenced to seven years in jail for abusing of her power while serving as prime minister by overseeing a gas contract with Russia determined to be financially unfavorable for Ukraine. She insists the charges were politically motivated.
Meanwhile, several thousand people gathered for a rally in the city of Simferopol in Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula to support Ukraine’s relations with Russia, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported.
The decision of Ukraine’s government to suspend the course for European integration was “a victory of commonsense and good judgment,” political wisdom, which is in the interests of most Crimea residents, Vladimir Konstantinov, the speaker of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea’s parliament, said.
He praised the Ukrainian leadership’s decision to keep his country's well-established relations with Russia, according to media reports.
Ukrainian and Russian media reported that several hundred anti-EU integration protesters also gathered in downtown Kiev.
Updated to add Kiev police reaction in graf 2, minor edits.