Violent protest follows vote on autonomy for Eastern Ukraine - video

01 September 2015 - 10:02 By New York Times

The results of a fiercely contested parliamentary vote over autonomy for eastern Ukraine were counted Monday, partly in blood: 265 in favor, three major parties opposed and one dead policeman. About 120 other officers were also wounded in an attack during a protest that intensified after Parliament approved a measure on constitutional changes that could grant autonomy to parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.The authorities said a man later identified as a member of a nationalist party had thrown a grenade at the police lines.The violence underscored the tensions over a vote that many here see as a concession to Russia in exchange for peace.Monday’s vote in Parliament was just a first step. Changing the status of the rebel eastern regions, as demanded by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in peace talks in Minsk, Belarus, last winter, involves both an amendment to the Constitution, which must receive final approval from a supermajority of 300 of Parliament’s 450 members, and a separate law passed by that chamber.The measure is fiercely opposed by Ukrainian nationalists and many others, who loathe any concession to Putin and see him as the driving force behind a civil war that has claimed more than 6,500 lives.President Petro O. Poroshenko had conceded the constitutional change, which is included in the text of the Minsk agreement, with a metaphorical gun to his head: thousands of Ukrainian soldiers surrounded by Russian-backed rebels near the Ukrainian railroad town of Debaltseve.Supporters of the change say granting special status to the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk would co-opt the rebels’ major selling point, blunting the drive for separatism.Yet the war has angered Ukrainians to such an extent, opinion polls show, that members of Parliament are struggling to win support from voters for any concession.“The president is acting in a brave way,” Mikhail Minakov, an associate professor at the Mohyla Academy in Kiev, said in a telephone interview. “He is trying to find a legal solution to meet the agreement. We have very strong opposition to this in society. People don’t want to go on with the war but don’t want to concede anything, either.”Three parties from the majority coalition in Parliament supporting Poroshenko opposed the constitutional changes, making it unclear whether the president can ultimately win approval.Hopes for a peaceful settlement of the Ukraine crisis have been rising lately in Europe as oil prices have sunk, increasing financial pressure on Putin. With the Russian economy reeling, the thinking goes, he should be more willing to compromise on eastern Ukraine, the source of damaging Western economic sanctions.But that thinking was not shared by many in Ukraine.“This is not a road to peace and not a road to decentralization,” Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and the leader of one of the dissenting parties, said in comments carried by the media here. “This is the diametrically opposite process, which will lead to the loss of new territories.”As Parliament approved the concessions, protesters outside the building scuffled with police, and shouted, “Shame! Shame!” The demonstrators grew more agitated. Some tore helmets from the riot police and threw them on the paving stones.“They are trading in our blood and our corpses,” said a veteran of the war in the east, Volodymyr Natuta, referring to members of Parliament who supported the measure. “They sold out Ukraine.”Several loud explosions were heard. The interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said that a military hand grenade had been thrown into the police line, at a confusing moment when the police were hurling tear-gas canisters in the other direction.After the grenade explosion, the police carried a dozen or so bloodied and apparently gravely wounded colleagues to ambulances, with the mayor’s office later reporting that one officer had died.It was the first death in politicized street violence in the capital since the 2014 revolution, which overthrew Viktor F. Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president, after months of protests.Avakov said police had detained a member of a right-wing paramilitary group, Sych, that is the militant arm of the Svoboda political party, one of the three parties that backed the Maidan street uprising against Yanukovych last year.Officially, the Russian government denies having any hand in propping up the two enclaves in eastern Ukraine. But Ukrainians - not to speak of virtually every Western government and NATO - universally reject that, holding Moscow responsible for all the carnage in the east.“Everything is created by Russia and supported by Russia,” Ilona Sologoub, a researcher at the Kyiv School of Economics, said of the separatist region. “If Russia doesn’t want it to exist, it will not exist in a few days.”The vote in Parliament that so offended Ukrainian nationalist parties, she said, was not about meeting separatist demands.“It doesn’t matter what the separatist governments think,” she said. “It matters what Putin thinks.” -2015 New York Times News Service

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