Senior right-wing party members charged with Monday clashes

AP News
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Posted: Sep 04, 2015 7:19 AM
Senior right-wing party members charged with Monday clashes

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Two senior members of a Ukrainian nationalist party were charged Friday with rioting while their leader walked free after being questioned in Kiev in connection with Monday's clashes outside the parliament.

Three National Guard officers died from injuries suffered in a grenade explosion during clashes between police and nationalists who were protesting a constitutional amendment granting more powers to Ukrainian regions including the rebel-held east. More than 140 people were hospitalized including one officer who is still in a coma.

The police said they had found the man, formerly a fighter in a volunteer battalion in the restive east, who is believed to have thrown the grenade.

Following clashes, another nationalist party walked out of the parliament majority coalition, threatening to tip the already precarious balance of power in Ukraine where months-long protest swept a pro-Russian president from power in February 2014.

Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok turned up for questioning at the Interior Ministry on Friday. Tyahnybok, who is officially a witness while 16 Svoboda members have been arrested on suspicion of orchestrating the riots, blamed the violence on the government.

"It's only the current government which is building a dictatorship under the guise of pretty slogans that is benefiting from the tragedy that happened on Aug. 31, 2015, outside the Supreme Rada," he told reporters before questioning.

The Interior Ministry on Tuesday issued photographs of the protesters facing off the police Monday, which featured the Svoboda two members with a truncheon in one hand and a shield in another.

Investigators have promised a speedy probe, saying that perpetrators and organizers could face lengthy prison sentences as the clashes have been classified as a terrorist attack.

Most of the 100 violent protesters at Monday's rally were members of Svoboda, who wielded truncheons and sticks with nails as they faced off against police in riot gear.

Speaking in Vladivostok earlier on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he believed that the clashes in Kiev were "in no way connected to the changes to the constitution because everything what is on offer as an amendment is purely declarative does not change the structure of government in Ukraine substantially."

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Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.