Kiev clashes, grenade explosion injure dozens during protests against constitutional law

Dozens of people have been injured and at least one Ukrainian National Guard soldier has been killed during violent clashes in front of the parliament in Kiev. Crowds of protesters opposed amendments to the constitution which would provide for the decentralization of the country.

The protest started on Constitution Square in Kiev in front of the parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, where some 3,000 radicals gathered.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook that “one person was killed, 125 were injured, 12 people are being operated on and one soldier is in deep coma. Doctors have refused to give any forecasts on the condition of another five people.”

Those affected were police officers, National Guard troops, the interior ministry’s special forces servicemen and members of other law enforcement agencies, he stressed.

Ukraine’s Deputy Interior Minister Vasily Paskal, journalists of Ukrainian TV channel 5 and channel 1+1 as well as a French correspondent were also among the injured, the minister added.

In an earlier press-conference, the minister said that the wounds were caused “by several explosive devices thrown by the people wearing Svoboda (Freedom) Party T-shirts, who provoked clashes with the National Guard in front of the Rada.”

“30 people have already been detained. But there’ll be more arrests. The grenade thrower has been captured, several grenades, including maximum damage F1 grenade, have been seized from him,” Avakov said, as cited by TASS.

The minister said that he “directly blames” the leader of the Svoboda party, Oleg Tyagnibok, for the incident, saying that what happened near the parliament was “a crime, not a political stance.”

“30 people have already been detained. But there’ll be more arrests. The grenade thrower has been captured, several grenades, including maximum damage F1 grenade, have been seized from him,” Avakov said, as cited by TASS.

The minister said that he “directly blames” the leader of the Svoboda party, Oleg Tyagnibok, for the incident, saying that what happened near the parliament was “a crime, not a political stance.”

Earlier, Avakov confirmed reports that a National Guard soldier has died after receiving a gunshot wound near the parliament.

“There’s one killed National Guard troop – a gunshot wound to the heart… we thought it was shrapnel – but it turns out someone used the confusion to shoot,” he wrote on Facebook.

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The Ukrainian Health Ministry said on its website that firearms were widely used during the clashes at the Verkhovna Rada building, and 21 people received gunshot wounds. 

There are conflicting reports about the number of casualties near the Ukrainian parliament. Initial reports said that at least five officers were killed in the clashes.

The Ukrainian National Guard has claimed that “about 50” people sustained injuries.

The European Union is concerned over the events in Kiev, urging the sides to be show restraint and start a dialogue, European Commission press-service told Tass.

Tweets from journalists at the scene said supporters of the radical group Right Sector were brutally attacking police officers.

The demonstrators attacked police with long sticks and threw at least one smoke bomb grenade, Russia’s RIA Novosti and TASS news agencies reported.

The Ukrainian UNIAN news agency also reported that smoke bombs were being thrown along with stones. 

Both protesters and police officers used tear gas against each other, UNIAN said. 

The agency added that the protesters are reportedly shouting “Shame!” and “Impeachment!” in front of the parliament building, which is currently blocked from the outside.

 

Earlier in the day, the parliament passed amendments to the Constitution on decentralization in the first reading. The amendments proposed by President Petro Poroshenko were supported by 265 of the parliament’s 450 lawmakers.

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The lawmakers did not discuss giving a special status to Donbass, a historical area in eastern Ukraine that includes the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Since April 2014 the area has been fought over by pro-Kiev and anti-government forces.

Despite the special status for the war-torn areas being a separate bill, the protesters who came out in the capital Monday were angered by the prospect of Eastern Ukraine getting autonomy from the central government. Photos posted on social media showed people holding banners saying, “No to special status of Donbass,” and “Occupants in Donbass, go away.

The protesters on Constitution Square in Kiev are from the right-wing Radical, Self-Help, Svoboda  and Republican Platform parties. TASS news agency has estimated their number to be around 1,000.

Inside the parliament, members of the Radical Party attempted to block the tribune as the debate got under way. The disruption was led by the leader of the Radical Party, Oleg Lyashko.

READ More: 2 Ukrainian ultra-radical MPs face investigation for kidnappings, torture

Lyashko, along with his fellow party member Igor Mosiychuk, have recently been accused of organizing a criminal group, kidnappings and torture. On Saturday, Ukraine’s prosecutor general opened a case against the two right-wing politicians.

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Dozens of Svoboda Party activists have been picketing a police station where those detained during the clashes near the parliament are being held.

They demanded the release of fellow Svoboda members and denied their involvement in the violence at the Verkhovna Rada.

Senior Svoboda member Mikhail Miroshnichenko told Tass that his party “condemns terror attacks and is always peaceful in its actions.”

Svoboda also released a statement, in which it demanded the parliament to urgently discuss the issue of removing Interior Minister Arsen Avakov from his position.

"It was the police who were first to use force against the protesters, provoking numerous skirmishes. The law enforcers failed to implement appropriate measures to neutralize the provocateurs,” the statement said.

Svoboda also claimed that the grenade thrown from the crowd at the police was “a pre-planned provocation aimed against Ukrainian patriots.”

The radical Right Sector movement has made a general rally call for its supporters in Kiev, stating on Facebook that “the blood of Ukrainian patriots was spilled near the Verkhovna Rada.”

They later used cars to block access to three city blocks surrounding the parliament building, with police making no effort to stop the radicals.

Poroshenko defends decentralization amendments

The violence in Kiev prompted Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to make a televised address to the nation, in which he promised that the perpetrators will be punished and defended the decentralization amendments to the Constitution.

“Today I had a meeting with security officials, during which clear assignments to investigate those events were given. And all the perpetrators, organizers, all political forces will face a severe punishment,” Poroshenko said.

According to the president, “the threat of break-up of the international pro-Ukrainian coalition” would have increased if the Verkhovna Rada had not voted in favor of decentralization amendments to the constitution on Monday.

It could also lead to the lifting of sanctions, which “are very painfully hitting the aggressor,” he said, apparently, referring to Russia, which Kiev blames for sending troops to war-torn eastern Ukraine.

“Amendments to the constitution don’t mean the loss of territory,” Poroshenko said, explaining that, on the contrary, they’re giving a chance to bring back Donetsk and Lugansk regions under Ukrainian rule “via political and diplomatic means.”

“We will achieve victory, combining strengthening national defense with political and diplomatic efforts,” he promised.

The president pointed out that the new amendments are far from those which the rebelling regions desired from any constitutional reform.

“What they wanted was no federalization, but a confederation, which would’ve seen dozens of Ukrainian regions having closer links with Russia than Ukraine. Therefore, there were dreams about the militants to be able to influence key foreign policy decisions, having the right to veto the entry of Ukraine into NATO and the EU," he explained.

“But what they [Donetsk and Lugansk Regions] have got instead is a lean line about the features of local self-governance,” Poroskenko stressed.

The amendments saw all the provisions for “a theoretical possibility of a special status for individual cities” excluded from the constitution in order to eliminate “the slightest legal clues for the parade of sovereignty," he added.

As for Donetsk and Lugansk, the local self-governance there is provided by a separate law, which “has already been approved by the parliament on two occasions,” Poroshenko said.

“Most of the articles of this law are now suspended. And they will only start working after an election in accordance with Ukrainian law and OSCE standards is held on those territories, and only after… the restoration of our full control of the entire border with the Russia,” he said.