Police action against protesters in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, which led to clashes at Independence Square, the main opposition site, elicited an unusually stern response from the U.S., with Secretary of State John Kerry expressing “disgust” over the Ukrainian government’s decision to deploy riot police.

The protesters want the Ukrainian government to overturn a decision to reinstate ties with Russia instead of joining the European Union, after Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an EU association agreement in late November. Yanukovych said Ukraine could not afford to sever relations with Russia, and argued that the EU's offer of an $820 million loan was inadequate, while EU leaders strongly objected to Russian interference in the bloc’s relations with former Soviet republics.

“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,” Kerry said in a statement. “This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy.”

“The United States stands with the people of Ukraine. They deserve better,” Kerry said.

Police stormed the protest site overnight on Tuesday and began dismantling barricades erected around the camp, triggering clashes with demonstrators, news reports said. On one of the roads leading to the protest site, a large group of demonstrators wearing protective gear were reportedly holding back some riot police, Reuters reported.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who held talks with Yanukovych on Tuesday, said the police's action to forcefully remove protesters from the protest camp site in Kiev was disappointing.

Referring to Independence Square she said, “I was among you on Maidan in the evening and was impressed by determination of Ukrainians demonstrating for European perspective of the country,” in a statement posted on Facebook. “Some hours later I observe with sadness that police uses force to remove peaceful people from the centre of Kyiv. The authorities didn’t need to act under the coverage of night to engage with the society by using police.”

Last week, Russia had slammed the Ukraine protests and the response of Western nations, saying outsiders should not interfere in Ukraine’s internal affairs.

“I do not quite understand the scope of the aggressive actions on the part of the opposition,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Brussels at the time, after talks with NATO foreign ministers. “I hope that Ukrainian politicians will be able to bring the situation into a peaceful vein. We encourage everybody not to interfere.”