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Savchenko Stripped Of Immunity In Ukraine, Detained Over 'Terror Plot'


Nadia Savchenko embraces a supporter after being detained in Kyiv on March 22 on charges of planning a military-style coup.
Nadia Savchenko embraces a supporter after being detained in Kyiv on March 22 on charges of planning a military-style coup.

KYIV -- Ukrainian security officers have detained Nadia Savchenko, a lawmaker and former captive of Russia who is accused of plotting to blow the roof off the parliament building in a "terrorist" attack.

Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) agents detained Savchenko inside parliament on March 22, after fellow lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada voted to strip the fiery government opponent of her immunity from prosecution and authorize her arrest.

Savchenko was served papers saying that she is a suspect and was escorted from the Rada by the officers, with journalists in tow. She was not handcuffed and there was no sign of a protest, though dozens of supporters and critics had gathered outside the building earlier.

WATCH: Video of Savchenko being detained

The detention marked a dramatic new turn for Ukraine and Savchenko, one of the most potent symbols of the deadly war that has killed more than 10,300 people in the eastern region known as the Donbas since Russia fomented unrest and backed separatists after pro-European protests drove Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014.

Savchenko says she was abducted in the combat zone later that year and taken to Russia. She spent two years in prison there, defying the Kremlin with a series of hunger strikes, and returned to a hero's welcome in Kyiv when she was released as part of a prisoner swap in May 2016.

ALSO READ:From Hero To Terrorist? Ukraine's Savchenko Refutes Terror Charges, But Admits To 'Absurd Plans'

Elected to parliament on an opposition party ticket while still held in Russia, Savchenko became a vehement critic of President Petro Poroshenko's government after her return. She swiftly drew fire from several political camps, facing criticism for holding talks with the Russia-backed separatists without government consent and for comments nationalists said indicated she advocated accepting Moscow's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

On March 15, Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko abruptly accused Savchenko of plotting to destroy the Rada’s roof cupola with mortar shells and kill surviving lawmakers with assault-rifle fire.

"The plan was to overthrow the constitutional system by carrying out terrorist attacks on Kyiv's central government quarter...using weapons received from the leaders of the so-called DNR," Lutsenko later told lawmakers, referring to separatists in the Donetsk Oblast.

Savchenko denies the allegations, saying that undercover agents attempting to discredit her encouraged her to plan to overthrow the government, and that she pretended to go along with the conspiracy in a bid to embarrass the authorities and expose what she said was their duplicity.

"This is not a terrorist act. This is a political provocation to make the authorities look ridiculous," she said at a briefing on March 20.

Ahead of the votes in the Rada on March 22, Lutsenko was given the floor and reiterated his claims. He alleged that Savchenko and an alleged accomplice, Volodymyr Ruban, had plotted "to violently overthrow the constitutional order and seize state power in Ukraine. To achieve this, they planned a large-scale terrorist attack on the center of Ukraine's capital, where administrative and large residential buildings are concentrated."

Lutsenko played a video for lawmakers that appeared to show Savchenko and a key negotiator in prisoner exchanges with the Russia-backed separatists, Ruban, discussing a plan to seize power.

"I propose a coup," the video shows Savchenko saying. "And that is why they have to be removed physically. And all at once. That is the only way."

Referring to top officials including Poroshenko and National Security and Defense Council chief Oleksandr Turchynov, she says: "All of them must be blown up in the [city] center."

At one point while the video was playing, Savchenko stood next to the parliament's podium and shouted "Ba-bakh!" -- the sound of an explosion.

"I am not so much interested in the government buildings; I am more interested in their residential places. I think they start running away, and when they do not have any place to run to, all of them start running," Savchenko is shown saying on the video.

After Lutsenko finished his presentation, Savchenko repeated her explanation, saying that what was discussed in the video was "a political provocation." She did not deny its authenticity.

Addressing Lutsenko, she said: "When you say that officers came to you [ to report the alleged plot], well, the officers came to me first. Already at that moment, they were deployed [against me]."

Ruban was arrested earlier in March and accused of plotting to kill Poroshenko and other top officials, after he was detained while crossing into government-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine -- allegedly with large amounts of weapons and ammunition hidden in a shipment of furniture.

Ruban, whose Center for the Release of POWs has been involved in prisoner exchanges between Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists since 2014, maintains his innocence and says he was framed.

With reporting by Reuters
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