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Hundreds Rally In Kyiv Demanding Interior Minister's Resignation

Protesters rallying in Kyiv to demand the interior minister's resignation.

KYIV -- Hundreds of protesters calling for the resignation of Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov, have set off smoke bombs and fireworks in front of the parliament in Kyiv.

Avakov, who was inside making a speech on June 5, has come under intense criticism in recent days.

Critics say the minister has failed to rein in police abuses, bring about reform, or promote law and order in the country during his six years in office. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has thrown his support behind Avakov, calling him "a really powerful minister."

Demands to sack Avakov from the post he has held since 2014 were sparked by reports about the alleged rape and torture of a woman by police officers in the town of Kaharlyk near Kyiv and a shoot-out between criminal gangs in the Kyiv region in late May.

The demonstrators represented different political groups and parties, including Holos (Voice), a pro-European opposition party founded by popular rock musician Svyatoslav Vakarchuk; the nationalist Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) party; gay rights group Kyiv Pride, as well as individual citizens holding posters, some of which said: "Avakov Is A Syndrome," "Where To Turn When The Police Rapes Me?"

Protest Against Ukraine's Interior Minister Causes Chaos Outside Parliament
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WATCH: Protest Against Ukraine's Interior Minister Causes Chaos Outside Parliament

The rallies were held as Avakov was giving a report about the crimes allegedly committed by police officers and other high-profile cases, which some lawmakers and Avakov's critics say have been poorly investigated.

As Avakov started his testimony in parliament, protesters brought to the site an old Soviet-made UAZ car that was used as a police vehicle across the former Soviet Union until the late 1990s. The demonstrators pelted it with firecrackers, calling the action "a memorial to police reforms."

One of the protesters poured gasoline on his body and set himself on fire but police managed to extinguish the flames right away.

The man, who introduced himself as Yuriy Lyashenko from the southern town of Nova Kakhovka, claimed that he had come to Kyiv to protest what he called the "illegal taking of his property by police."

Hundreds also rallied in the western city of Lviv, demanding Avakov's resignation.