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9 Mar, 2019 22:36

Ukrainian radicals clash with police outside Poroshenko’s office, give ultimatum to president

Ukrainian radicals clash with police outside Poroshenko’s office, give ultimatum to president

Masked men tried to storm the Ukrainian president’s office, prompting police to use tear gas against them. The radicals promised to sabotage Petro Poroshenko’s re-election and ramp up street violence if their demands aren’t met.

Extreme nationalists were the driving force in the 2014 coup that brought Poroshenko to power in Ukraine, but now – with three weeks remaining before the vote – they may become actors in his political demise.

Several thousand masked men, dressed in the paramilitary gear affiliated with neo-Nazi vigilantes Batallion Azov, marched from Maidan (meaning ‘Independence’) Square in central Kiev to the presidential administration on Saturday. When in situ, they tried breaking through the police cordon to get into the building. The radicals threw stones and flares at the law enforcers, who responded with tear gas and batons to push the attackers back.

Around 700 officers had been keeping order in the center of the Ukrainian capital on the day, according to the police. The organizers of the attempted action announced that some 4,000 people took part in the protest and the Ukrainian media reckons this estimate is about right.

The protesters came from groups loyal to nationalist leader and Ukrainian parliament member Andrey Biletsky, commander of the infamous neo-Nazi Azov battalion, which took part in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine on Kiev’s side; he is also the head of the far-right National Corps party.

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Before the clashes broke out, the radicals were gluing stickers with their demands on the riot shields and helmets of the police officers. What they want from Poroshenko is punishment for those involved in a massive fraud at UkrOboronProm, a state concern that manages the country’s military-industrial complex.

A recent media report blamed the first deputy head of Ukraine’s National Security Council, Oleg Gladkovsky, and his son, of using fake firms to sell spare parts to Ukrainian arms makers at up to three times the accepted prices.

“You have one week,” the radicals chanted, meaning that in seven days the two must be put behind bars. If this doesn’t happen, Biletsky has promised to target all of Poroshenko’s campaign rallies in the run up to the election on March 31.

Poroshenko, who is running for a second term, faces a challenge given his low approval rating. A survey by pollster Sofia earlier this week revealed that he was supported by just over 13 percent of the population, trailing both of his main rivals – comedian Volodymyr Zelensky (20.3 percent) and ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko (13.9 percent).

Poroshenko had already removed Gladkovsky from his position at the Security Council, but he’s unlikely to take any further steps, due to the former deputy head reportedly being his closest ally and friend.

Poroshenko was not in Kiev during the assault on his office and had gone to Cherkasy, in central Ukraine, where he was to speak at a rally. There, a group of nationalists clashed with police after chanting anti-Poroshenko slogans during the event.

The president was evacuated from the rally in a car, according to witnesses. 15 officers protecting him were injured in the scuffles, the Interior Ministry said, in a statement.

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