Blast at Kiev parliament as Ukraine MPs back more autonomy for rebels

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Several police officers and members of Ukrainian national guard injured after grenade thrown from nationalist protesters demonstrating outside.

Several police officers and members of the Ukrainian national guard were injured after a grenade was thrown from a crowd of nationalist protesters demonstrating outside parliament in Kiev against a draft law to give special status to separatist regions, police have said.

A Reuters TV cameraman at the scene said several police officers were knocked off their feet by the blast. Two officers were treated for wounds at the scene and there were pools of blood on the street, the cameraman said.

Clashes had erupted outside parliament in Kiev on Monday as lawmakers gave initial approval to consitutional changes granting more autonomy to pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The western-backed constitutional reforms are required under the terms of a peace deal signed in February, which called for Kiev to implement “decentralisation” by the end of this year. But critics have branded the reforms “un-Ukrainian”.

A total of 265 lawmakers voted in favour of the reforms at a stormy session of parliament, with protests both inside and outside the buidling.

Dozens of demonstrators scuffled with police, Agence France-Presse journalists said. Protesters fired at least one smoke grenade that sent up a cloud of black smoke outside the building. Teargas was used by both sides, an AFP correspondent said.

The controversial reforms have been sought by Kiev’s western allies, who see them as a way of trying to end the armed conflict in the east that has claimed more than 6,800 lives over the past 16 months.

The bill has sparked heated debate in Ukraine where opponents see it as an attempt to legalise the de facto rebel control of part of Ukraine’s territory.

The reform bill grants more powers to regional and local lawmakers including in the eastern areas currently under rebel control.

But contrary to separatists’ expectations, it does not definitively hand the largely industrial eastern region the semi-autonomous status that the insurgents are seeking.

According to the text of the draft legislation, the region’s status needs to be defined by a separate law.

Kiev and the west accuse Russia of backing the rebels militarily and deploying its troops to the conflict zone, claims that President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin have repeatedly denied.

A group of Ukrainian lawmakers had earlier on Monday disrupted the parliament to block the vote on the constitutional reforms, which they condemned as “anti-Ukrainian” and “pro-Vladimir Putin”.

Lawmakers from the Radical party – part of the pro-western coalition behind President Petro Poroshenko – had also blockaded the speaker’s rostrum in an attempt to halt the crucial session.

Members of the extreme-right Pravy Sektor group blocked traffic outside the parliament, while several hundred activists from the nationalist party Svoboda rallied outside the building against the western-backed reform.

At the weekend, Poroshenko met lawmakers from the pro-presidential coalition who oppose the reform in an attempt to persuade them to change their minds.

SOURCE: The Guardian, August 31st 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/31/blast-kiev-parliament-ukrai...