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It was another icy night of confrontations between anti-government protestors and riot police in Ukraine. And demonstrators feel they have won an important round in their effort to force their president to resign. They've won strong words of support from the White House and from U.S. diplomats, but now they say it's time for more than words.
NPR's Corey Flintoff is on the line with us from Kiev, the capital city. And, Corey, last night, Ukrainian authorities apparently tried and failed to drive protestors from the streets using riot police. You were at the scene, describe for us what happened.
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Well, Audie, around 1:00 in the morning, the authorities brought in thousands of riot police around this protest camp in the central square here in Kiev. They got into shoving matches with the protestors that basically went on all night. But in the end, they apparently realized that they couldn't drive the protesters out without resorting to really extreme violence. So around 10:00 this morning, the last police finally gave up and withdrew.
So, if anything, the result of that decision to try using force backfired on President Viktor Yanukovych. It energized the protesters and it drew a lot more people down into the square. And it also brought very strong condemnations from the United States and the European governments.
CORNISH: Yes, we've heard from Secretary of State John Kerry. He issued a statement expressing disgust at the government's decision to use force. What else have you been hearing?
FLINTOFF: Well, one of the reasons I think the U.S. was so angry about this was that it happened under the nose of the top American diplomat who'd come here to try and establish a dialogue between the government and the opposition. And that's Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. She was here. She immediately expressed support for the protesters this morning by going to the square and meeting with the opposition.
And then, Nuland had a two-hour meeting with President Yanukovych, during which she apparently had very sharp words for him. She described it as a difficult meeting. But she came out saying, and I'm quoting her, "I made it absolutely clear to him that what happened last night is absolutely impermissible in a European state, in a democratic state."
CORNISH: So tougher talk from the administration toward Yanukovych, but what do the protesters want from the U.S. and its allies?
FLINTOFF: I think it was well expressed today by a Ukrainian political analyst that I talk to pretty frequently here. His name is Oleksiy Haran and he's a professor at Kiev Mohila University.
OLEKSIY HARAN: I would like all the people of good will to demand from their governments, not only to say right words but also to do real deeds. And by real deeds, I mean targeted sanctions about the persons who are involved in violence - minister of interior, secretary of national security and defense, prime minister, other people around Yanukovych. Immediately, visa ban.
FLINTOFF: Basically, what he wants and what the opposition wants is for the U.S. and the European Union to treat Yanukovych and his inner circle the way they treat dictators who are accused of gross human right violations. That is, refuse to give them visas and freeze any assets that they might have in U.S. and European banks. That was echoed by statements from various Ukrainian opposition leaders, including President Yanukovych's bitterest rival, Yulia Tymoshenko. She's been in prison for the past two years in what the opposition says are politically-motivated charges.
CORNISH: Corey, but is there a sense that these demands by the opposition could, in essence, push Yanukovych toward Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin?
FLINTOFF: Well, that's the question I asked, and many opposition figures don't have a firm answer. They say that they shouldn't back Yanukovych into a corner. But at this point, the bottom line is that they want him out and they want the country to call early elections.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Corey Flintoff, speaking to us from Kiev. Corey, thank you.
FLINTOFF: My pleasure, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.