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Ukraine clash: Death toll from violent protest rises to 3

Ukrainian nationalists strongly oppose changing the constitution, saying that would threaten the country's sovereignty and independence.

By: AP | Moscow |
Updated: September 1, 2015 9:15:41 pm
ukraine, ukraine clash, ukraine violence, ukraine grenade explosion, grenade, grenade explosion, police office killed ukraine violence, ukraine violence police killed, ukraine violence grenade explosion, world news Flags of the of nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party are seen in the background as police clash with protesters, after a vote to give greater powers to the east in front of the Parliament, in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. (AP Photo)

The death toll from violent protests in Ukraine rose to three on Tuesday when two more National Guard officers died from injuries suffered in a grenade explosion, officials said.

In the worst outburst of violence in Kiev since the new government took power in 2014, nationalist protesters clashed with police and National Guard troops outside Ukraine’s parliament on Monday as lawmakers took up a measure to give greater powers to Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

About 140 people were hospitalized, most of them law enforcement officers, the Interior Ministry said. One National Guard officer died on Monday, and a second died early on Tuesday, both as a result of injuries caused by the grenade, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. The National Guard reported another death in the early afternoon, saying that the third man died after a day in coma.

Police officers carry their injured colleague after grenade exploded during a clash between protesters and police after vote to give greater powers to the east, outside the Parliament, Kiev, Ukraine. (Source: AP) Police officers carry their injured colleague after grenade exploded during a clash between protesters and police after vote to give greater powers to the east, outside the Parliament, Kiev, Ukraine. (Source: AP)

Most of the 100 violent protesters were members of Svoboda, a nationalist party that holds only a handful of seats in parliament. Wielding truncheons, pipes and sticks with nails, they faced off against police carrying shields and truncheons.

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About 30 protesters were detained, of whom 18 remained in custody on Tuesday, including the man suspected of throwing the grenade. Avakov said he was a Svoboda member who fought in the east in one of the volunteer battalions, which are loosely controlled by the government.

President Petro Poroshenko, on a hospital visit to see the injured officers, pledged to find the organizers of the clashes who were handing out sticks and weapons like grenades.

The decentralization of power was a condition demanded by Russia for a truce signed in Belarus in February aimed at ending the fighting between Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed separatists that has left more than 6,800 people dead since April 2014.


But Ukrainian nationalists strongly oppose the constitutional changes, saying they would threaten the country’s sovereignty and independence.

Poroshenko and his supporters insist that the constitutional amendment would devolve powers to local communities in all of Ukraine, from east to west, while making sure that Ukraine stays a unitary state.

While Ukrainian nationalists think the amendment gives too much power to the regions including the east, Russia-backed rebels there say this is not enough.


Speaking to Russian news agencies in Donetsk, rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko criticized Poroshenko for taking out a clause that could offer sovereignty to the east and make it a part of a loose confederation within Ukraine.

Now that 265 lawmakers have given it preliminary approval, the bill comes up for the final vote where Poroshenko will need to get at least 300 votes.

A truce in eastern Ukraine brokered by Western powers in February helped to subdue the fighting but did not stop it completely. Government troops and separatists agreed last month to stop fighting by Tuesday which is the first day of school in Ukraine. Both sides said on Tuesday that the cease-fire is holding despite sporadic exchange of rifle fire.

The measure won preliminary approval on Monday with 265 deputies in the 450-seat parliament voting for it.

But three parties that are part of the majority coalition in parliament refused to give their support, showing the difficulty that Poroshenko faces even within his own pro-Western camp in fulfilling the peace agreement.


When the decentralization bill comes up for final approval, he will need to get at least 300 votes as required for amending the constitution.

“This is not a road to peace and not a road to decentralization,” said the leader of one of those dissenting parties, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. “This is the diametrically opposite process, which will lead to the loss of new territories.”


The officer who was killed in the clashes on Monday was a 25-year-old conscript, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told reporters. He said 122 people were hospitalized, most of them officers, but also some Ukrainian journalists and two French reporters.

No injuries were reported among the several hundred protesters, including 100 die-hard activists, most of whom are members of Svoboda, a nationalist party that holds only a handful of seats in parliament. The protesters were carrying sticks and truncheons. Some of them were masked.


Avakov said that about 30 people have been detained, including the protester who threw the grenade, who he identified as a Svoboda member who fought in the east in one of the volunteer battalions that are loosely controlled by the government.

Poroshenko described the violence outside parliament as a “stab in the back” and pledged to prosecute “all political leaders” who were behind the clashes.

He said Monday’s vote confirmed Ukraine’s “position as a trusted partner which fulfills its international obligations” and said the country risks losing the support of the West and being left “alone with the aggressor” if it fails to meet the conditions of the truce.

The Minsk peace agreement was negotiated with the leaders of Germany and France, as well as with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While Ukrainian nationalists fear the decentralization bill would incite separatism, Moscow and the Russia-backed rebels say it doesn’t give the regions sufficient powers and falls short of the pledges Kiev made in Minsk.

A final vote on the constitutional changes will be held during parliament’s fall session, which begins on Tuesday. No specific date has yet been set.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in a live address on television, denounced the violence, saying the right-wing protesters were “worse” than the separatist rebels because they were destroying the country from within “under the guise of patriotism.” He called for life imprisonment for the protester who threw the grenade.

“The cynicism of this crime lies in the fact that, while the Russian federation and its bandits are trying and failing to destroy the Ukrainian state on the eastern front, the so-called pro-Ukrainian political forces are trying to open another front in the country’s midst.”

He called on all Ukrainian political parties to rally around the government and to condemn the violence.

Avakov blamed the clashes on the Svoboda party, which polled less than 5 percent in last year’s parliamentary election, and its leader, Oleg Tyahnybok, who stood side by side with the interior minister during the anti-government protests that toppled then-president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

“No political differences can justify what you did outside the Rada today,” Avakov said, referring to the parliament.

Svoboda blamed the government, saying that it “provoked Ukrainians to protest” by presenting a bill that it called tantamount to “capitulation to the Kremlin.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in comments to Russian news agencies, voiced Moscow’s concern about the clashes in Kiev, but wouldn’t comment on the bill.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the clashes “worrying” and said the vote “will facilitate the implementation of the Minsk agreements.”

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she’s open to holding a new summit with the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and France on the settlement in eastern Ukraine.

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First published on: 01-09-2015 at 08:53:14 am
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