Protesters clash with police in Ukraine's capital

Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Thousands of angry anti-government protesters clashed with police outside Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday in a new eruption of violence following new maneuvering by Russia and the European Union to gain influence over this former Soviet republic.

Plumes of smoke and tear gas rose in the air as stun grenades boomed, after opposition leaders accused pro-government factions in parliament of dragging their feet on a constitutional reform that would limit presidential powers — a key opposition demand.

As parliament delayed the session to take up the issue, thousands marched toward the parliament building to put pressure on lawmakers. Shouting "shame!" the demonstrators hurled stones at police and set trucks blocking their way on fire. Law enforcers retaliated with stun grenades and fired what appeared to be small metal balls, as smoke from burning tires and vehicles billowed over central Kiev. Dozens of protesters and police were injured, as well as journalists working for The Associated Press and the Reuters news agency.

The clashes dimmed hope for an imminent solution to the political crisis.

The protests began in November after President Viktor Yanukovych froze ties with the EU in exchange for a bailout from Russia.

Tuesday's confrontations came two days after the government and the opposition reached a shaky compromise, with protesters vacating a government building in Kiev they had been occupying since Dec. 1 after the release of scores of jailed activists.

As opposition leaders met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, Moscow offered a fresh infusion of the billions of dollars that Ukraine needs to keep its economy afloat.

The tensions soared after Russia's finance minister offered to resume financial aid to Ukraine on Monday, just as Yanukovych was expected to nominate a new prime minister, prompting fears among the opposition that he would tap a Russian-leaning loyalist.

"After weekend progress in Kyiv, sorry to see renewed violence," U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt said in a Twitter post. "Politics needs to happen in the Rada (parliament), not on the street."

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko called on Yanukovych to agree to the reforms and to call early elections or face a serious escalation of the crisis.

"We are talking minutes, not hours," Klitschko told reporters in parliament.

Yanukovych still remains popular in the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions of the country, where economic and cultural ties with Russia are strong.

Russian President Vladimir Putin promised Yanukovych $15 billion in loans in December, but after purchasing Ukrainian bonds worth $3 billion Russia put the payments on hold. The Russian finance minister said Monday that $2 billion more would be purchased this week.

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Associated Press writer Laura Mills in Moscow contributed reporting.

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