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KIEV, Ukraine — Anti-government protests in Ukraine’s capital escalated into fiery street battles with police Sunday as thousands of demonstrators hurled rocks and firebombs to set police vehicles ablaze.
Dozens of officers and protesters were injured.
Police answered with stun grenades, tear gas, and water cannons, but were outnumbered by the protesters. Many of the riot police held their shields over their heads to protect themselves from the projectiles thrown by demonstrators on the other side of a cordon of buses.
The violence was a sharp escalation of Ukraine’s two-month political crisis, which has brought round-the-clock protest gatherings but had been largely peaceful.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko tried to persuade demonstrators to stop, but he was sprayed with a fire extinguisher in response.
Mr. Klitschko later visited President Viktor Yanukovych’s suburban home and said the president has agreed to negotiate.
“There are only two ways for events to develop. The first one is not to negotiate,” Mr. Klitschko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. “A scenario of force can be unpredictable, and I don’t rule out the possibility of a civil war. ... And here we are using all possibilities in order to prevent bloodshed.”
Mr. Yanukovych said later on his Web site that he has tasked a working group, headed by national security council head Andriy Klyuev, to meet with opposition representatives to find a solution.
However, throughout the crisis, the opposition has insisted on the government’s resignation and demanding early presidential elections.
The U.S. Embassy called for the violence to stop. “We urge calm and call on all sides to cease any acts provoking or resulting in violence,” it said.
The crisis erupted in November after Mr. Yanukovych’s decision to freeze ties with the European Union and seek a bailout from Russia. The decision sparked protests, which intensified after police twice violently dispersed demonstrators.
Anger arose anew after Mr. Yanukovych last week signed laws severely limiting protests and banning the wearing of helmets and gas masks.
The laws brought tens of thousands to Kiev’s central square on Sunday. Many wore hardhats and masks. They set several police buses on fire and some chased and beat officers, who responded with tear gas, water cannons, and stun grenades.
A group marched toward a police cordon blocking an area of government offices and began attacking police with sticks to push their way toward the parliament.