Parliamentary coalition in Ukraine shows cracks over constitutional amendment



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KIEV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian parliament majority showed cracks on Tuesday after a right-wing party said it was exiting the coalition over a measure to give more powers to Ukrainian regions, including the rebel-held east.

The announcement from the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, which came in fifth in last year's election, came on the day that two more National Guard officers died from injuries suffered in a grenade explosion, bringing the death toll to three from Monday's clashes between nationalists and police outside Ukraine's parliament.

About 140 people were hospitalized following the violence, most of them law enforcement officers, the Interior Ministry said.

Most of the 100 violent protesters were members of Svoboda, a nationalist party that holds only a handful of seats in parliament. Wielding truncheons, pipes and sticks with nails, they faced off against police in riot gear.

Investigators have summoned nearly 30 people for questioning including Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok in connection with the clashes, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said Tuesday. A statement posted on the website of the Ukrainian president claimed that Svoboda, Lyashko's party and one more group were behind the rally which spilled into the clashes.

President Petro Poroshenko met with the country's top law enforcement officers and urged for a speedy investigation so that it "would not drag out for months and years." Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin said the perpetrators and organizers of the clashes would face lengthy prison terms on charges of carrying out a terrorist attack.

As parliament speaker Volodymyr Groisman on Tuesday called on all political parties to condemn violence and rally around the president and his plans to devolve powers, Lyashko's party said it would now officially oppose Poroshenko and his plan, which they believe threatens the country's sovereignty.

The decentralization of power was a condition demanded by Russia for a truce signed in February aimed at ending the fighting between Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed separatists that has left more than 6,800 people dead since April 2014.

Poroshenko has found himself in a tight spot with the bill, attracting the ire of nationalists who accuse him of undermining Ukraine's independence. At the same time, Russian-backed rebels say the bill does not give them as much as power as they expect.

Lyashko, who came in third at the May 2014 presidential election, said in Kiev on Tuesday that he will demand a referendum to discuss the measure.

"Only the Ukrainian people as a source of power have the right to say what kind of country they should live in," he said in comments carried by Ukrainian news agencies.

Poroshenko, on a hospital visit to injured officers, pledged to find the organizers of the clashes who were handing out sticks and other weapons.

A total of 265 lawmakers voted on Friday to give preliminary approval to the bill, which still needs final approval by 300. Only three out of the five coalition parties voted for the bill.

The government insists that the constitutional amendment would devolve powers to local communities in all of Ukraine, from east to west, while making sure that Ukraine stays a unitary state.

Speaking to Russian news agencies in Donetsk, rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko criticized Poroshenko for taking out a clause that could offer sovereignty to the east and make it a part of a loose confederation within Ukraine.

A truce in eastern Ukraine brokered by Western powers in February helped to subdue the fighting but did not stop it completely. Government troops and separatists agreed last month to stop fighting by Tuesday, which is the first day of school in Ukraine. Both sides said on Tuesday that the cease-fire is holding despite sporadic exchange of rifle fire.


Yuras Karmanau reported from Minsk, Belarus. Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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