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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Break Up Anti-Kuchma Rally

APYulia Tymoshenko and other protesters trying to stop the riot police from removing the tent camp in Kiev early Tuesday morning.
KIEV -- Several thousand riot police armed with shields and rubber truncheons destroyed a tent camp and evicted protesters near Ukraine's presidential office before dawn Tuesday, following a march in Kiev by tens of thousands of people who demanded President Leonid Kuchma's resignation.

Following the country's biggest demonstrations since Ukraine's independence 11 years ago, supporters of opposition groups from Communists to democrats set up 167 tents under a heavy rain late Monday. They vowed to occupy the area around Kuchma's office until he steps down.

Opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said Tuesday that as many as 5,000 riot police took part in dismantling the tent camp and beat some 1,500 people guarding the tents. They were poised to use tear gas to disperse the crowd but protesters managed to seize the tear gas tanks in a clash with police at about 4 a.m., she said.

"They started to beat people left and right, peaceful people who were tired and half asleep," Tymoshenko said.

Tymoshenko, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Communist Party head Petro Symonenko, said at a joint news conference Tuesday that at least 141 young people from the tent camp had been detained and only seven of them released; police put the number of detainees at 64.

Police said they had no choice but to remove the protesters because court representatives arrived at the scene early in the morning and ordered the tents removed according to an earlier decision banning the protests from the city center.

Symonenko said that reports about weapons found in tents were planted by police, stressing that protesters never had violent motives. Police claimed to have confiscated a grenade and two sawed-off rifles from tents in the encampment.

Symonenko said opposition leaders would try to gather support for an emergency parliamentary session this week to evaluate the legality of police actions and demand Interior Minister Yury Smirnov's resignation over alleged police brutality.

Moroz said the opposition would try to hold other top law enforcement officials responsible for illegally instigating the clash.

Some 20,000 protesters rallied in Kiev on Monday, and thousands more marched across other towns. In the second-largest protest, some 12,000 people took to the streets of the western city of Lviv, a stronghold of Ukraine's most popular opposition politician, former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko.

Opposition leaders traveled around the country for two weeks ahead of the nationwide protest to drum up support.

The rallies were timed to mark the second anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Georgy Gongadze.

Kuchma was in Salzburg, Austria, on Monday, where he pressed political leaders to support Ukraine's distant hopes of joining the European Union.