31 Aug 2015

National guardsman dies in Ukraine parliament clashes

A Ukrainian national guardsman dies and scores more are injured as grenades are thrown at a demonstration against concessions to pro-Russian separatists.

Clashes outside parliament in Kiev (Reuters)

It was initially reported that a 25-year-old national guardsman had died of a gunshot wound to the heart, but interior minister Arsen Avakov later said the man had died after being injured from “splinters from grenades” during clashes in Kiev.

Mr Avakov said in a tweet that nearly 90 national guardsmen had been hurt, four with serious wounds to the eyes, stomach, neck and legs, after several explosive devices were thrown at them from crowds who gathered outside Ukraine’s parliament.

The clashes broke out as politicians backed reforms giving more autonomy to eastern regions of Ukraine being held by pro-Russian rebels, allegedly with military support from Russia.

President Petro Poroshenko is due to address the nation later on Monday following the violence outside parliament, where deputies loyal to him managed to push through a first reading of a “decentralisation” draft law – part of a peace agreement brokered in February.

Opponents of the bill said it played into Russia’s hands and would lead ultimately to Ukraine losing control over the eastern Donbass region, large areas of which are controlled by the rebels.

Blaming the clashes on members of the main Ukrainian nationalist party, Svoboda, Mr Avakov asked Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok: “Tell me, how does Svoboda differ from the b*****ds who shoot at our national guard at the front?”

It is unclear whether Mr Poroshenko will be able to get the 300 votes for the bill to get through a second and final reading later this year.

Passing legislation granting special status for parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which are largely controlled by is a central element of a peace
agreement reached in Minsk, Belarus, in February.

Western governments are urging Ukraine to abide by the letter of the Minsk agreement amid a fragile ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

Protesters clash with national guardsmen in Kiev (Reuters)

Maksim Burbak, from Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk’s Popular Front party, said the bill would “give our western partners the ability to put pressure on Russia to fulfil three basic points of the Minsk agreement – the ceasefire, withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine and re-establishment of control over the border.”

But opponents say the concession gives Russian president Vladimir Putin too much power.

Opponents say it gives Putin the upper hand in the east.

“We believe that these anti-Ukrainian changes to the constitution … are a road to realisation of Putin’s plan for destroying Ukraine.

Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko said: “This is not the road to peace but to decentralisation. This is a diametrically opposed process which forces us to lose territory.

“Putin does not need the Donbass. He needs war in Ukraine. Our task in the vote is to get back to negotiations on the right road to bring peace, not the illusion of peace.”

More than 6,500 people have been killed in the east since pro-Russian separatists rebelled against Kiev government after Russia annexed Crimea in March last year.