Clashes Near Ukraine’s Parliament Deepen Rifts in Ruling Coalition

Ukraine | September 2, 2015, Wednesday // 17:20|  views

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L) and Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Groysman (2-L) kneel in commemoration of Igor Debrin, 24, a National Guard soldier who was killed the previous day during clashes outside parliament, 1 September 2015. EPA/BGNES

A protest rally outside Ukraine’s parliament against amendments to the constitution that give greater autonomy to the eastern regions controlled by pro-Russian rebels turned violent earlier this week.

The clashes were the worst in the Ukrainian capital since a bloody uprising in early 2014 and have deepened cracks in President Petro Poroshenko’s ruling coalition.

Protesters clashed with police on Monday as MPs approved on first reading the controversial decentralization bill that is a part of the Minsk peace accords signed between Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian rebels in February. Ukraine’s nationalists, who dominate the west of the country, are deeply opposed to giving the pro-Russian separatists greater control over Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Smoke bombs were hurled at the soldiers of the National Guard force near the parliament building, some of the most aggressive protesters wielding baseball bats, truncheons and metal pipes to fight law enforcement officers, according to Ukrainian media reports. Both sides started using tear gas from cans in the confrontation.

Then a powerful blast shook the site.

What initially seemed to be a smoke bomb thrown at the National Guard lines turned out to be a shrapnel grenade.

The blast left about a hundred people wounded, not only members of the National Guard but also journalists covering the protests, Ukrainian news outlet UNIAN reported. A 24-year old member of National Guard troops died on Monday from a shrapnel wound to his heart. Two more National Guard troops died on Tuesday from injuries sustained during the clashes.

According to initial estimates of Ukraine’s Defence Ministry as of Monday night, the clashes had left 112 soldiers, police officers and National Guard troops wounded.

Russian news agency TASS reported on Wednesday that a total of 141 people were injured during the clashes, including 131 police officers and National Guard troops.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor’s Office has charged 18 people with various criminal offences  according to TASS. Charges include murder of a law enforcement officer performing  his line of duty, threat of violence against law enforcement officers and violation of public order by a group of people.

Police have detained 30 protesters during the rally including the suspected grenade thrower, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Monday. 

Avakov accused nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party and its leader Oleg Tyagnibok of the outbreak of violence. Svoboda rejected the accusations, saying the grenade blast was a premeditated "provocation" aimed against Ukrainian patriots, TASS said.

"With all the information obtained by investigators by now, a terrorist act has taken place. I also believe there are signs of creation of a criminal organization,” Ukraine’s Chief Prosecutor Viktor Shokhin said, according to TASS.

"More than 70% of Ukrainians support constitutional changes on decentralisation and as Ukraine's president, I will be with the Ukrainian people," President Poroshenko said after the incident, according to AFP.

The clashes have exposed weaknesses in Poroshenko's coalition with the right-wing Radical Party leaving it on Tuesday in protest at the decentralization bill which Kiev must put in place by the end of the year under the Minsk deal The Radical Party said it would now officially oppose Poroshenko and his decentralisation plan, which they see as a threat to the country's sovereignty.

Poroshenko said the clashes were a "stab in the back" and warned that the culprits would be severely punished.

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Tags: Ukraine, parliament, grenade, blast, Minsk, peace accord, Svboda, Radical Party, rally, decentralization, autonomy, West, East, Donetsk, Luhansk, Russia  


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