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Ukrainian Veterans Protest Planned Cuts In Benefits

Ukrainian Veterans, Chornobyl Workers Protest Pension Cuts
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WATCH: Soviet-Afghan War veterans and Chornobyl clean-up participants protest against proposed cuts in their welfare benefits.

KYIV -- Thousands of veterans of the Soviet-Afghan War and participants in the Chornobyl nuclear disaster clean-up protested in Kyiv on September 20 against a bill that would eliminate many of their social benefits, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

The protesters -- who came from all parts of Ukraine -- held signs saying "Hands Off The Chornobyl Law!" "Stop Lawlessness!" and "We Are Against Cuts In Social Benefits!" while chanting "Shame! Shame! Shame!" in front of the parliament building.

Most of the protesters wore military uniforms and Soviet-era medals.

Addressing the crowd, a veterans' leader urged them to "to be ready to act bravely," as "nothing more can be achieved by peaceful means."

He compared the parliament building with the palace of Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin, who who was killed by the Soviet secret service in the first days of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

He stated that "we are ready to take [the parliament] by force."

Another protest leader told RFE/RL that "we are on our way to convey to [parliament speaker Volodymyr] Lytvyn how angry people are and try to persuade him to stop adopting laws directed against the people. Otherwise he will be responsible for whatever happens. And I can assure you, anything can happen."

Parliament members pledged to the protesters that they will not discuss the legislation this week. The bill was originally scheduled to be discussed on September 20.

On September 19, the opposition Batkivshchyna parliament faction demanded Lytvyn's resignation, accusing him of intentionally prolonging debate on the bill, which would transfer from parliament to the government responsibility for cutting social benefits to people in as many as 16 social categories.