Ukrainians stage mass rally against Yanukovich’s U-turn on Europe

Protesters in the Ukrainian capital erected barricades early Monday morning after a weekend of violent clashes between police and demonstrators, RIA Novosti reports.

Tensions are simmering in the former Soviet nation amid increasingly vocal calls for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in the wake of a decision to back away from closer integration with Europe.

Barricades made from Christmas trees, city benches, parts of metal fences and traffic barriers were erected in Kiev’s Independence Square, which served as the focal point of the Orange Revolution of 2004-5.

In a speech to the crowd at 2:00 a.m. local time, Ukrainian opposition leader and lawmaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on protesters not to leave the square.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through downtown Kiev on Sunday in the largest show of discontent since Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a much-anticipated series of trade deals with the EU last month sparked a wave of largely peaceful rallies.

City officials said Monday morning that almost 300 people had been injured in the violence, with 109 protestors and 53 police officers hospitalized.

EU and US ambassadors in Ukraine condemned the violence in a joint statement late Sunday, but said that they recognized that the majority of protests had been peaceful in nature.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called Sunday for both sides to avoid violence, and urged Ukraine to “fully abide by its international commitments to respect the freedom of expression and assembly.”

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