A national guardsman was killed by nationalist protesters in clashes outside the Ukrainian parliament Monday just as lawmakers considered a draft bill that would grant more autonomy to regions in the east of the country. At least 90 other members of the security forces were injured.
As parliamentarians debated the measure Monday, around 100 protesters — many affiliated with the far-right Svoboda party — faced-off against police outside.
Drone footage of the stand-off shows columns of riot police holding back an angry crowd in front of parliament.
Some in the crowd had masks over their faces and brandished metal shields and clubs. A protester lobbed a grenade towards the police, sparking a pitched battle in the shadow of the parliament building.
In an address to the nation, President Petro Poroshenko called the violent demonstrations "anti-Ukrainian" and said that "all organizers must carry full responsibility."
While our troops defend homeland, some kill them in Kyiv for the sake of party banners and several seats in a district council, - President.
— The Bankova (@TheBankova)August 31, 2015
Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov blamed the Svoboda leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, for the violence.
"Tell me, how does Svoboda differ from the bastards who shoot at our national guard at the front?" he said.
He added that over 30 people had been detained in connection with the attack, including the man accused of throwing the grenade.
"No political differences can justify what you did outside the Rada today," Avakov said, referring to the parliament building.
The right-wing nationalist Svoboda party, meanwhile, said that the government of President Petro Poroshenko, which is pushing a constitutional change to give more independence to Russian-speaking areas of the country, had "provoked Ukrainians to protest." The party characterized the the draft bill as a "capitulation to the Kremlin."
Monday's clashes reflect a larger and contentious debate within Ukraine over the peace-process with Russian-backed separatist in the east. In February, the separatists and the central government cemented a truce that required Kiev to allow some of these Russian-speaking regions greater independence. Fighting between Kiev and rebel fighters has left more than 6,800 dead, and inflamed geopolitical tensions between Russia, the EU, and the US.
Monday's bill also provoked passions inside parliament. Nationalist deputies chanted "shame" and drummed on parliamentary benches as the vote was called. But in the end, the bill moved forward with a comfortable majority — 265 deputies voted in favor of the first reading of the bill, 39 more than the minimum required.
Still, some key allies of President Petro Poroshenko came out against the measure, which could make it difficult for the bill to gain the 300 votes it will eventually need to be finalized.
"This is not a road to peace and not a road to decentralization," said former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a key member of the ruling coalition who is opposed to granting autonomy. "This is the diametrically opposite process, which will lead to the loss of new territories."
On the other side of the debate, Parliament speaker Vladimir Groisman denied that the changes would lead to the loss of any territory. "There is no hint of federalism," Groisman said. "Ukraine was, is and will be a unified state."
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