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Protesters, Police Clash At Tent Camp Outside Parliament In Kyiv


KYIV -- Ukrainian protesters who are demanding that President Petro Poroshenko enact anticorruption reforms or step down have clashed with police at a tent camp outside the parliament building in Kyiv.

At least 10 people were arrested on October 18 as police used tear gas against the protesters, Ukrainian media reported.

Russian news agency Interfax reported that several hours after the arrests, 11 of the detained protesters were released and rejoined other activitists at a tent city set up by the protesters outside the parliament building.

The police action came after, earlier on October 18, protesters blocked Hrushevska Street and Mariyinskyy Park outside the Verkhovna Rada building with dozens of tents.

About 200 protesters were at the site on October 18, saying they would stay until their demands were met, after a crowd of 4,500 people demonstrated outside the parliament against corruption.

A field kitchen was set up and barrel fires burned amidst about three dozen camping-style tents.

Serhiy Leshchenko, a reformist opposition lawmaker who is a vociferous critic of Poroshenko, told RFE/RL near the parliament that the president and his administration had provoked the protest.

"Poroshenko has ignored all the demands of the people in terms of anticorruption [measures]," Leshchenko said.

Demonstrators were outnumbered by police, but National Police chief Serhiy Knyazev had told reporters that the authorities weren't planning on forcefully removing the tent camp.

"We do not want to repeat old mistakes. We want to secure the citizens' right to express their will," Knyazev said.

"Old mistakes" may have been a reference to deadly attempts to crack down on the Euromaidan protests that pushed Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

A tent camp set up on Kyiv's Independence Square was a prominent feature of the 2013-14 protest movement, which drew hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets at times.

The rally on October 17 was spurred by disappointment in Poroshenko and his pro-Western government, which came to power after Yanukovych's ouster and is accused by critics of failing to root out high-level corruption.

Leshchenko said that a Maidan-style tent camp protest "is a part of Ukrainian political culture" and "is the only way" to gain the attention of Poroshenko, who he said has "lost touch with reality."

While he wasn't spending nights at the protest camp, Leshchenko said it would likely stay put "until the president answers to our goals."

Those goals include the creation of anticorruption courts, the abolition of parliamentary immunity from prosecution, and an overhaul of Ukraine's electoral legislation.

Leshchenko said that a fourth demand added late on October 17 -- legislation on impeachment procedures -- would put pressure on the president and "hold Poroshenko accountable."

At the rally on October 17, former Georgian President and Odesa region Governor Mikheil Saakashvili urged Ukrainians to press for Poroshenko to step down if he does not heed their demands.

Many of the protesters blocking the street are supporters of Semyon Semenchenko, a lawmaker and former commander of a volunteer unit in the war between Ukranian 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.

Knyazev said that two police officers were hospitalized after scuffles that broke out when demonstrators started bringing tents to the site without police screening.

Knyazev's spokesman Yaroslav Trakalo said earlier that three protesters were also injured but did not need hospitalization.

With reporting by Christopher Miller and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service
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