KIEV, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- Ukraine's anti-government protests turned violent on Sunday as thousands of demonstrators attacked riot police with sticks, fireworks and smoke bombs in central Kiev, according to local media.
Protesters reportedly tried to overturn a police bus and torched an interior forces vehicle, meeting with strong resistance from police armed with stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons.
The interior ministry said scores of police had been injured, some seriously. No figures for protester casualties were available yet, though witnesses reported dozens of ambulances at the site in the heart of the Ukrainian capital.
The sharp escalation of Ukraine's two-month political crisis, which has largely seen peaceful gatherings, came after the parliament on Thursday approved legislation limiting demonstrations.
The new bill bans the wearing of masks and helmets and allows a jail term of up to five years for those who block public buildings.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, a former boxing champion, tried to persuade demonstrators to refrain from violence, but was pictured getting sprayed with a powder fire extinguisher in the midst of the crowds.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, in his first response to the violence, said on his website late Sunday that he has tasked a working group, headed by national security council head Andriy Kliuyev, to "consider the issues regarding the settlement of political crisis."
He also promised a meeting between representatives of the working group and the opposition on Monday.
Globally, Washington and other Western governments have denounced the new bill as undemocratic. The White House threatened on Sunday to slap sanctions on Ukraine "in response to its use of violence" against protesters.
"The U.S. will continue to consider additional steps -- including sanctions -- in response to the use of violence," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
Protests in Ukraine started on Nov. 21 last year with peaceful demonstrations demanding the country's European integration, but soon snowballed into a nationwide movement against authorities.
Ukraine pulled out of signing a partnership agreement that would deepen its ties with the EU at the Eastern Partnership Summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius last November.
Furious at both the government's decision and the violent dispersal of earlier demonstrations, the protesters are demanding the impeachment of Yanukovych, resignation of the government and disbandment of parliament.
Ukrainian police opened a criminal case into Sunday's incident.
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