A national guardsman was killed and nearly 90 others protecting Ukraine’s parliament were wounded by grenades hurled by protesters, the Interior Ministry said, as deputies backed reforms to give more autonomy to rebel-held areas.
The violence, which Interior Minister Arsen Avakov blamed on the main nationalist party, and division in the pro-Western camp in parliament suggested President Petro Poroshenko faces an uphill battle to push through key parts of a faltering peace agreement reached in February for eastern Ukraine.
Poroshenko’s spokesman said the president would address the nation last night following the clashes outside parliament, where deputies loyal to him managed to push through a first reading of a “decentralisation” draft law, but only in the face of strong criticism from some of his political allies.
The violence came after the deputies voted by 265 in favour of the first reading of the bill, 39 more than that required to pass, at a boisterous session with many deputies shouting “Shame!” and rhythmically beating parliamentary benches.
Opponents of the bill said it played into Russia’s hands and would lead ultimately to Ukraine losing control over the industrialised east, swathes of which are controlled by separatists now.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, in a tweet, said nearly 90 national guardsmen had been hurt, four of them with serious wounds by several explosive devices that were lobbed at them from crowds massed outside.
Blaming members of the main Ukrainian nationalist party, Svoboda, Avakov addressed himself to Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok, saying: “Tell me, how does Svoboda differ from the bastards who shoot at our national guard at the front?”
One of his advisers, Anton Geraschenko, said a 25-year-old national guardsman, who had been called up only in spring, had died of a gunshot wound in the heart.
But Avakov himself later said this account was not true.
“He died of splinters from grenades, not a gunshot wound,” he said.
Though the bill passed on its first reading, many coalition allies, including former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, spoke against it and it is open to question whether Poroshenko will be able to whip up the necessary 300 votes for it to get through a second and final reading later this year.
Approval of legislation for special status for parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which are largely controlled by Russian-backed separatists, is a central element of a peace agreement reached in Minsk in February.
Though a ceasefire is under pressure from sporadic shelling and shooting which government troops and rebels blame on each other, Western governments see the deal as holding out the best possible prospects for peace and are urging Ukraine to abide by the letter of the Minsk agreement.