"KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Several thousand riot police armed with shields and rubber truncheons broke up a tent camp and evicted protesters in front of the Ukrainian president's office before dawn Tuesday, after tens of thousands of people marched to demand he resign or call early elections.
Following the country's biggest demonstrations since Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union 11 years ago, protesters representing an array of opposition groups from Communists to pro-western reformers set up 167 tents under a heavy downpour Monday evening. They vowed to occupy the area until President Leonid Kuchma steps down.
As of midnight Monday, the protesters' tents occupied the entire block and spilled into surrounding streets, blocking traffic.
Opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko said protesters would return Tuesday to set up more tents and wait for Kuchma to return from a trip to Austria so they could formally demand he step down.
She said as many as 5,000 riot police took part in dismantling the tent camp and beat some 1,500 people guarding the tents. They were poised to use tear gas to disperse the crowd but protesters managed to seize the tear gas tanks in a clash with police at about 4 a.m., she said.
``They started to beat people left and right, peaceful people who were tired and half asleep,'' Tymoshenko told the Associated Press.
Police forced the protesters to clear out of the sidewalk and street in front of Kuchma's office, citing a court decision last week ordering that the protests be held at an airfield outside Kiev, according to the Interfax news agency.
Tymoshenko, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Communist party head Petro Symonenko, said at a joint news conference that at least 141 young people from the tent camp had been detained and only seven of them released; police put the number of detainees at 64.
Symonenko said that reports about weapons found in tents were planted by police, stressing that protesters never had violent motives. Police claimed to have confiscated a grenade and two sawed-off rifles from tents in the encampment.
Symonenko said opposition leaders would try to gather support for an emergency parliamentary session this week to evaluate the legality of police actions and demand Interior Minister Yuriy Smirnov's resignation over alleged police brutality.
Police said they had no choice but to remove the protesters because court representatives arrived at the scene early in the morning and ordered the tents removed according to an earlier decision banning the protests from the city center.
Monday's demonstration was timed to mark the second anniversary of the disappearance of investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The October 2000 discovery of his beheaded body touched off months of protests against Kuchma. Opposition groups accused him of being involved in the journalist's death, which Kuchma denies."