By Laura Smith-Spark. Diana Magnay and Victoria Butenko
KIEV, Ukraine (CNN) -- Undeterred by an overnight crackdown by authorities, protesters in the center of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, rebuilt barricades Wednesday that had been torn down by riot police hours earlier.
Hundreds of officers used chainsaws and brute force to pull down the barriers manned by pro-Western demonstrators around the city's Independence Square, or Maidan, in the early hours.
Footage from the scene showed a mass of black-helmeted, heavily armored riot police advancing toward the protesters, who wore orange helmets. Clashes led to reports of injuries from both sides.
Thousands of demonstrators have been camped out in the snow-covered Independence Square for days, angry about the refusal of Ukraine's Russian-allied President, Viktor Yanukovych, to sign an agreement that would strengthen cooperation with the European Union.
The predawn crackdown on the protest prompted a chorus of condemnation from Western leaders.
But U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, after a two-hour meeting with Yanukovych on Wednesday, said there was still "a way out" for his government.
"It was a tough conversation, but it was a realistic one," she told reporters in Kiev. "I made it absolutely clear to him that what happened last night, what has been happening in security terms here, is absolutely impermissible in a European state, in a democratic state.
"But we also made clear that we believe there is a way out for Ukraine, that it is still possible to save Ukraine's European future and that is what we want to see the President lead."
A picture posted to Twitter by the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoff Pyatt, showed Nuland handing out food earlier Wednesday to security forces and protesters in the square.
Interior minister: 'No crackdown'
Mid-morning Wednesday, Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko said that there would be no attempt to disperse the protest and that police were just trying to keep the roads clear.
"I want to reassure everyone -- there will be no crackdown of the Maidan," he said, according to the official Ukrinform news agency.
"Nobody is infringing on citizens' right to peaceful protests. However, one cannot ignore the rights and lawful interests of other citizens."
The Interior Ministry earlier said 10 policemen were injured between 1 and 4 a.m. while acting on a court order to dislodge protesters from the city center and allow free movement of traffic.
It's not clear whether the interior minister's words will cool protesters' anger in Ukraine.
Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion, said Yanukovych had "burned the bridge to a civilized resolution of the political crisis," according to his Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party.
Klitschko said the demonstrators' goals are "a full reload of the government and punishment for those guilty in clearing up the protests."
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told a government meeting Wednesday that Ukraine was still open to signing the European integration deal if the European Union agreed to provide financial assistance to Ukraine of around 20 billion euros ($27.5 billion.)
He suggested European officials were more interested in monitoring the protests than in discussing a financial deal that would benefit the Ukrainian people, according to a government news release.
U.S. 'disgust' at crackdown
In a strongly worded statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the authorities' crackdown on protesters.
"The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kyiv's Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity," he said. "This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy."
Kerry urged the "utmost restraint" by the authorities, saying "human life must be protected."
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "deeply concerned" about the Ukraine government's decision to send in riot police against peaceful protesters.
"The concerns of protesters should be met with dialogue, not violence," he said.
The police crackdown came only hours after EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also held lengthy talks with Yanukovych and visited the protest site in the central square.
Her spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, tweeted a statement from Ashton, who is still in Kiev, voicing her concern that police had moved in under cover of darkness to take on the protesters with force.
"I was among you on Maidan in the evening and was impressed by the determination of Ukrainians demonstrating for the European perspective of their country," she said. "Some hours later I observe with sadness that police uses force (to) remove peaceful people from Kiev center."
Ashton also met with opposition leaders Tuesday.
The scenes of protest have become reminiscent of the uprising that swept Yanukovych out of office nine years ago during the Orange Revolution, when he was prime minister.
East vs. West
Yanukovych's refusal to sign the EU deal represents a U-turn in the country's advance toward closer relations with the West.
An EU agreement would have opened borders to trade and set the stage for modernization and inclusion, protesters say. They accuse Yanukovych of preparing to take the country into a Moscow-led customs union.
Moscow has leverage that may have affected Yanukovych's decision to backpedal on the EU talks. Russia supplies Ukraine with natural gas, which is essential to keep people from freezing in the country's brutal winters.
Moscow can increase Ukraine's energy bills and impose other trade sanctions.
Yanukovych referred to that threat Tuesday at a televised roundtable, saying he was "strongly against opposing relations with Europe in favor of relations with Russia and vice versa.
"We need to find a way to reunite. I think Europe will sleep peacefully in warmth if Ukraine has good relations with Russia, if there are no such conflicts like when we were shut off from gas."
The EU is also pressuring Yanukovych to free his chief political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, who has languished in jail for two years after being convicted of abuse of power in 2011. The verdict was decried by the EU and other critics as a sham.
The Orange Revolution that swept Yanukovych from office in 2004 also brought the pro-Western Tymoshenko to power.
Many of the protesters have carried her picture in Independence Square during the rallies.
CNN's Diana Magnay and journalist Victoria Butenko reported from Kiev, and CNN's Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN's Zahra Ullah contributed to this report.
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