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Police, Protesters Clash Near Ukrainian Parliament


Clashes In Kyiv As Key Bill Enters Parliament
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WATCH: Clashes In Kyiv As Key Bill Enters Parliament

KYIV -- Police and protesters have clashed near the Ukrainian parliament, where lawmakers discussed legislation on the "reintegration" of regions held by Russia-backed separatists.

The clashes on January 16 started after some of the protesters torched tires and burned a Russian flag in an area near the Verkhovna Rada and a tent camp set up by antigovernment protesters last year.

Police and firefighters extinguished the burning tires and threw them toward the tent camp. Law enforcement officers also used a chemical spray during the confrontation.

Ukraine's national police reported that one officer had been wounded in the scuffles, and one protester had been taken into custody.

Kyiv police said earlier that more than 3,800 officers were deployed near government buildings and the parliament ahead of the session in the Rada, Ukraine's single-chamber parliament. They greatly outnumbered the few dozen protesters.

Demonstrators want lawmakers to swiftly pass a "reintegration" bill that states that Russia -- which controls Crimea and backs separatists who have held parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in eastern Ukraine since 2014 -- is an aggressor.

Hotly Contested

The bill has been a hotly contested issue even before it passed in a first reading in October, amid scuffles between lawmakers. Opponents of the bill are displeased because they say it uncouples the issue of Russian-occupied Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and could lead to the restoration of trade with the territories under the control of the Russia-backed separatists because it does not include language to support the current ban, Rada Deputy Speaker and Samopomich (Self Reliance) party member Oksana Syroyid told Channel 5 news.

President Petro Poroshenko reluctantly cut all but humanitarian trade with the separatist-held parts of the region known as the Donbas in March 2017, under pressure from nationalist activists who had blocked rail and road routes between the two sides. The controversial move has made life even more difficult for those civilians living in the war-torn area, according to humanitarian groups.

Yuriy Boyko, leader of the Opposition Bloc, formerly the Party of Regions, claimed the bill "contradicts all international agreements and treaties" that Ukraine is party to in regard to solving the conflict, notably the February 2015 deal known as the Minsk accord.

Language regarding the Minsk accord, which has been criticized for not producing a lasting cease-fire -- let alone peace -- since it was signed, was removed after much debate ahead of the first reading of the bill.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk (file photo)
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk (file photo)

Supporters of the bill, including lawmakers from the president’s ruling party and the People’s Front party of former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, say it is necessary for the defense of the country, the possible expansion of international sanctions against the Kremlin, for the peace process, and potential compensation for losses stemming from Russia’s military actions.

“Legislative recognition of these facts will extend to the Kremlin the international legal obligations of the invader,” Yatsenyuk said on Facebook on January 15.

The parliament said earlier that lawmakers might also discuss a bill on the creation of a Supreme Anticorruption Court, which Poroshenko proposed last month amid rallies demanding the adoption of such a law.

'IMF Letter'

The creation of an anticorruption court has been one of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) conditions for Ukraine to qualify for the next loan tranche of around $2 billion.

However, both the IMF and World Bank are not satisfied with the Ukrainian draft law on the anticorruption court, Ukrayinska Pravda reported.

The online newspaper reported on January 15 that the IMF has told Poroshenko's administration that it did not support the bill in its current form because it would not guarantee the court's independence.

Ukrayinska Pravda published what it said was the text of a January 11 letter from the IMF mission chief for Ukraine, Ron van Rooden, in which he wrote that the IMF has "serious concerns about the draft law."

"Several provisions are not consistent with the authorities' commitments under Ukraine's IMF-supported program," the letter said.

On January 16, Ukrayinska Pravda cited a letter from the World Bank's country director, Satu Kahkonen, to the presidential administration to express the bank's concerns about the bill.

"We believe that the draft law requires the following revisions to bring it into alignment with the recommendations of the Venice Commission and satisfy the requirements of the World Bank's estimated $800 million Policy-Based Guarantee to support key reforms in Ukraine," she said in a letter dated January 15.

Ukraine's backers have repeatedly urged the country to step up its fight against corruption. Western governments say tackling graft is crucial to curbing Russian influence.

Progress on reforms has been stalled since 2016, raising concerns in Ukraine and the West that little will be done ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.

With reporting by RFE/RL Correspondent Christopher Miller in Kyiv, Reuters, and Ukrayinska Pravda

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