Thousands rally for reform at Ukraine’s parliament

Mikheil Saakashvili calls for Poroshenko to step down as votes on key Bills are stalled

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili with  supporters in front of parliament in Kiev: “Poroshenko needs to think about leaving his post . . . That is not my ultimatum, it is my advice.” Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili with supporters in front of parliament in Kiev: “Poroshenko needs to think about leaving his post . . . That is not my ultimatum, it is my advice.” Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

 

Several thousand Ukrainians rallied outside parliament in Kiev on Tuesday to demand a step change in the pace of reform, as frustration grows over continued corruption and the apparent impunity of powerful politicians and businessmen.

Some 3,500 police and national guard officers were on duty in the area around parliament, amid warnings from officials that radicals could try to storm building. Scuffles broke out in the late afternoon and injuries were reported.

Former Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili was among those who addressed the crowd, five weeks after returning to Ukraine from Poland by shoving past border guards with his supporters.

Mr Saakashvili lambasted Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, a former ally who stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship this summer after he resigned as governor of the Odessa region and formed a new opposition party.

“If by the end of today no decision has been taken for the good of the people, then we should think about our next demands. While Poroshenko is in place there will be no progress, no battle against corruption,” Mr Saakashvili told the crowd.

“I call on the people of Kiev to join us here after work. If no decisions are taken for the good of the people, Poroshenko needs to think about leaving his post . . . That is not my ultimatum, it is my advice.”

Immunity from prosecution

A host of political parties and civic groups took to the streets to demand three specific reforms: an end to deputies’ immunity from prosecution; the creation of an independent anti-corruption court; and an overhaul of election law.

Mr Poroshenko said he supported reform and Ukrainians’ right to protest, but he also warned against violence.

“It is an extremely important method of democracy, and I understand the protests and respect their participants,” said Mr Poroshenko, a confectionary tycoon who was elected president in 2014 after a revolution ousted Ukraine’s then pro-Russian leaders.

“But it is also very important to me, and I demand this from all the security services, to ensure the peaceful character of the protest,” he added, recalling how four national guardsmen died when a grenade exploded during a 2015 protest outside parliament.

Ukraine’s security service said it had halted the illegal purchase of automatic rifles and grenade launchers that could have been used at the protest.

Local media reported that police tried to stop demonstrators delivering tents and a field kitchen to the area around parliament, where they could have been used to set up a protest camp. Nevertheless, a few tents were erected on the square outside parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

Inside parliament, speaker Andriy Parubiy reportedly scheduled a debate on election reform and deputies’ immunity from prosecution for Thursday.

Mr Poroshenko tabled a Bill that would abolish their immunity only in 2020.

“So his clan, which has robbed Ukraine for the past three years, won’t be touched by these amendments,” said reformist deputy Serhiy Leshchenko.

“Our demand is that immunity be cancelled by spring 2018 . . . and that these amendments be voted on in conjunction with a law on the procedure for impeaching the president.”