Ukraine police attack protesters under Ashton's nose
Riot police have attacked pro-EU protesters in Ukraine during a visit by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The crackdown on the Maidan square in central Kiev began at 1am local time on Wednesday (11 December) morning.
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Clashes went on through the night, with reports of injuries on both sides.
The situation calmed down at about 7am. But thousands of protesters and hundreds of police remain in the square and in nearby streets.
Pro-EU crowds set up camp in the Maidan on 21 November, when Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych said No to an EU association treaty.
But the order to dismantle the barricades came in the middle of a rare visit to Ukraine by Ashton.
The EU's top diplomat met with Yanukovych for three and a half hours on Tuesday.
She also visited the Maidan at 8pm on Tuesday night.
"Some hours later I observe with sadness that police use force to remove peaceful people from the centre of Kiev. The authorities didn't need to act under the coverage of night to engage with the society by using police," she said in a statement on her Facebook page.
US secretary of state John Kerry voiced "disgust."
Opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk, who had escorted Ashton on her Maidan visit, added: "He [Yanukovych] is spitting in the faces of the United States, 28 countries of Europe, 46 million Ukrainians … Tomorrow there will be a million people here and his regime will fall."
The crackdown also came on the eve of Ukraine deputy PM Serhiy Arbuzov's trip to Brussels.
Arbuzov is to bring proposals for what he calls an EU "Marshall Plan" - demands for up to €20 billion of extra funds to implement the association pact.
Earlier on Tuesday, Yanukovych said on TV he is ready to sign the treaty at an EU-Ukraine summit in March.
But EU diplomats have lost faith in the President despite the ongoing talks.
Contacts say Yanukovych is playing Brussels against Moscow, asking each side for more money to help him win 2015 elections.
"He doesn't have the slightest intention of signing the treaty before the vote," one EU source noted.
"The Arbuzov visit is a smoke screen - Yanukovych will send the whole Ukrainian disneyland to Brussels to create the impression that he is ready to sign the association agreement," the contact added.
"The EU will probably play along because it doesn't have a plan B," the source said.