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Ukrainian Deputies Send Immunity Bill To Constitutional Court In 'Small Victory' For Protesters


KYIV -- Protesters calling for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to enact anticorruption reforms or step down notched a small victory on October 19 as parliament sent a bill on lifting lawmakers' immunity from prosecution to the Constitutional Court for review.

Hundreds of demonstrators aligned with opposition parties cheered the news when it was announced in front of the legislature, where they have been camping out in tents since October 17 to ratchet up pressure on Poroshenko to clamp down on what they see as rampant corruption in government.

Mustafa Nayyem, a reformist deputy and Poroshenko critic, called it "a small victory" for the opposition that is likely to appease the protesters for the time being.

Thousands of demonstrators have gathered outside the Verkhovna Rada in recent days in a mainly peaceful protest, though minor clashes with police have been reported.

In addition to setting up more than half a dozen tents in front of parliament, they have also managed to bring metal shields into the security area, echoing measures taken by activists in the massive Euromaidan protests that pushed Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February 2014.

Firebrand politician Mikheil Saakashvili and other opposition leaders are seeking the abolition of parliamentary immunity from prosecution and an overhaul of Ukraine's electoral law, as well as the creation of anticorruption courts and legislation on impeachment of the president.

They are also demanding legislation on impeachment procedures that would put pressure on the president and "hold Poroshenko accountable."

Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and governor of Ukraine's Odesa region who has been stripped of both his Georgian and Ukrainian citizenship, called for the demonstration last month after he returned to Ukraine in defiance of Poroshenko's government.

That call was backed by most of Ukraine's opposition parties, which sent prominent lawmakers, veterans of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and others critical of Poroshenko’s pro-Western ruling coalition to the protest.

​Many of the protesters are supporters of Semyon Semenchenko, a lawmaker and former commander of a volunteer unit in the war between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.

The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people since it began in April 2014, after Russia seized control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, and has increased solidarity among many Ukrainians but added to political tensions in Kyiv.

Saakashvili was previously an ally of Poroshenko, who appointed him governor of Odesa in 2015.

He resigned in November 2016, complaining of rampant corruption and saying reform efforts were being blocked. He has since turned his outspoken rhetoric on Poroshenko and his allies.

Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of Ukrainian citizenship in July, when he was outside the country. Saakashvili lost his Georgian citizenship in 2015, and authorities in Tbilisi have begun criminal proceedings against him.

Saakashvili forced his way back into Ukraine on September 10, defying border guards and vowing to re-enter politics.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service
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