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Protest Against "Dictatorship" In Ukraine Turns Violent

"War's finally started," wrote one opposition lawmaker. "Laws don't apply anymore."

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Hundreds of Ukrainian anti-government protesters enraged by repressive new laws fought pitched battles with riot police in sub-zero temperatures Sunday amid flaming buses and billowing clouds of tear gas.

Clad in helmets and gas masks, wielding sticks and shields, and chanting "Re-vo-lu-tion!," protesters in Kiev, the capital, rushed a police bus blocking their way to parliament and set it on fire with Molotov cocktails, local media reported.

Earlier, up to 100,000 people gathered on Independence Square, the Maidan, for a weekly protest against President Viktor Yanukovych. Ukrainians have gathered at the Maidan for two months since Yanukovych backed out of a deal with the EU in November.

Protesters are furious over a rash of new laws passed Thursday that essentially ban all forms of public protest in the country. Western governments have roundly condemned the laws, which the opposition has called a "coup d'état."

Protesters were also growing impatient with the leaders of Ukraine's three main opposition parties, who have failed to form a coherent plan of action. Crowds chanted "Give us a leader!" during the rally.

Journalist Tatiana Chornovol, who nearly died when several men stopped her car and viciously beat her in December, made her first public appearance since leaving the hospital. Chornovol accuses Yanukovych of ordering the attack on her, which he denies.

Chornovol later claimed to have discovered that Yanukovych is building a new luxury residence for himself. Protesters are furious over what they say is staggering, wholesale corruption involving Yanukovych and his family.

Vitaly Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion and the most popular opposition leader, tried to calm down protesters, but one of them attacked him with a fire extinguisher.

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Rioting soon ensued.

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Protesters set several police buses on fire.

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Police responded with a shower of sound and gas grenades.

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They also deployed a water cannon in temperatures as cold as -8 Celsius. Using a water cannon in temperatures below freezing is illegal in Ukraine.

Later in the evening, they fired rubber bullets, according to a reporter for the Kyiv Post, the local English-language newspaper.

Confirmed by medical staff at scene: Rubber bullets used on protesters. Number of resulting injuries unknown at this point. #ukraine

Christopher Miller@ChristopherJM

Confirmed by medical staff at scene: Rubber bullets used on protesters. Number of resulting injuries unknown at this point. #ukraine

03:38 PM - 19 Jan 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

"You're fighting a war against your own people," Klitschko said in a video appeal to Yanukovych. Klitschko later went to Yanukovych's palatial country residence to negotiate an end to the conflict.

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Western officials called for an end to the violence.

Following with concern reports of violent clashes in #Ukraine. Violence is not the answer

William Hague@WilliamJHague

Following with concern reports of violent clashes in #Ukraine. Violence is not the answer

02:50 PM - 19 Jan 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

The European Union said earlier this week that it was not considering Ukrainian officials involved in earlier outbreaks of violence.

Open democracy and reconciliation only way forward for Ukraine. Repression and violence will sink the country.

Carl Bildt@carlbildt

Open democracy and reconciliation only way forward for Ukraine. Repression and violence will sink the country.

04:13 PM - 19 Jan 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

The State Department told BuzzFeed Sunday that "all diplomatic tools are on the table" if the situation deteriorates, including sanctions.

U.S. Embassy Urging Calm and Political Dialogue: http://t.co/yARkoOOxMj

Geoffrey Pyatt@GeoffPyatt

U.S. Embassy Urging Calm and Political Dialogue: http://t.co/yARkoOOxMj

02:03 PM - 19 Jan 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

Ukrainians, however, are furious with foreign governments for professing moral support but doing little to back it up.

@carlbildt Europe only SAYS and NOTHING DOES! WHere is European support by REAL actions? Why you don't impose sanctions on Yanukovich?

Oleg Baranovskyi@OlegBaranovskyi

@carlbildt Europe only SAYS and NOTHING DOES! WHere is European support by REAL actions? Why you don't impose sanctions on Yanukovich?

04:16 PM - 19 Jan 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

@carlbildt We read the same over and over again in the past 2 months but you did nothing !!!!

Андрій @RealAndrij

@carlbildt We read the same over and over again in the past 2 months but you did nothing !!!!

04:14 PM - 19 Jan 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

@carlbildt It's getting late. You sat and waited. We asked for help. It's too late!!!

oleg_fotografo@oleg_fotografo

@carlbildt It's getting late. You sat and waited. We asked for help. It's too late!!!

04:14 PM - 19 Jan 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

@GeoffPyatt Shut up, your talk is cheap and useless.

Thomas C. Theiner@noclador

@GeoffPyatt Shut up, your talk is cheap and useless.

02:09 PM - 19 Jan 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

Opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk said Yanukovych called him late Sunday and offered to begin negotiations to end the crisis starting the next day.

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We are deeply concerned by the violence taking place today on the streets of Kyiv and urge all sides to immediately de-escalate the situation. The increasing tension in Ukraine is a direct consequence of the government failing to acknowledge the legitimate grievances of its people. Instead, it has moved to weaken the foundations of Ukraine's democracy by criminalizing peaceful protest and stripping civil society and political opponents of key democratic protections under the law. We urge the Government of Ukraine to take steps that represent a better way forward for Ukraine, including repeal of the anti-democratic legislation signed into law in recent days, withdrawing the riot police from downtown Kyiv, and beginning a dialogue with the political opposition. From its first days, the Maidan movement has been defined by a spirit of non-violence and we support today's call by opposition political leaders to reestablish that principle. The U.S. will continue to consider additional steps -- including sanctions -- in response to the use of violence.

Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71

Contact Max Seddon at max.seddon@buzzfeed.com.

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