Ukrainian Officer Killed as Autonomy Vote Fans Kiev Tension

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A Ukrainian policeman died in clashes with protesters during a demonstration against giving more authority to regions held by pro-Russian separatists.

The confrontation outside parliament on Monday left 122 people injured, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told reporters. Smoke was seen billowing over the building as ambulances rushed to the scene after lawmakers gave preliminary approval to the constitutional changes that sparked the protest. President Petro Poroshenko in a televised address said that organizers should be held responsible.

The clashes indicate deepening fault lines within Ukrainian society, buffeted by almost two years of protests, a separatist insurgency, political upheaval, and an imploding economy. Violence in Kiev flared just as fighting with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s easternmost regions ebbed and the country reached a debt-restructuring deal with creditors.

“The clashes reflect partially the mood of the society,” said analyst Volodymyr Fesenko, the head of the Penta research institute in Kiev. “Society is split on the issue.”

Supporters of the right-wing Svoboda party, which failed to qualify for parliamentary representation in last year’s election, are leading the protests. The policeman was killed by a piece of shrapnel from a grenade thrown from the crowd, Avakov said. Authorities have detained the suspected perpetrator, one of 30 protesters apprehended, he said.

The events amount to “backstabbing” and failure to pass the amendments would endanger international backing for the government, Poroshenko said in his address.

‘Cover Up’

Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok criticized Avakov for accusing his party without “trial or court ruling.” The government wants to use the unrest to “cover up its betrayal” and might have provoked the violence, Tyahnybok said on the private television channel 112.

The constitutional changes would give more autonomy to insurgent-held regions, one of the provisions of a February truce brokered by Russia, Germany and France. While the agreement helped reduce the intensity of the conflict that’s killed more than 6,700 people, fighting has persisted along the cease-fire line, with the two sides blaming each other for violations.

Lawmakers on Monday gave preliminary approval to the constitutional changes. The final vote is planned for December. Passing will require the support of 300 of 450 members of parliament. The bill was backed by 265 on Monday, enough for the simple majority required at this stage, with the parties of Poroshenko as well as Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk voting for it.

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