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article imageUkraine takes step to meet 'anti-corruption' protest demands

By Oleksandr SAVOCHENKO (AFP)     Oct 19, 2017 in World

​Ukrainian lawmakers on Thursday took steps toward meeting one of the main demands of an anti-corruption protest that has resulted in the first tent city going up in Kiev since the 2014 pro-EU revolution.

The crisis-torn former Soviet republic has been on edge since nearly 5,000 people rallied outside parliament on Tuesday calling for long-delayed institutional changes -- including for the introduction of an anti-corruption court.

The protesters have since set up dozens of khaki-coloured tents around the parliament building and remain locked in a tense standoff with anti-riot police who have cordoned off the area from all city traffic.

Some 1,000 activists gathered outside the chamber on Thursday as lawmakers agreed to proceed with two bills stripping members of parliament of their immunity from prosecution.

President Petro Poroshenko issued a congratulatory statement complimenting deputies for "taking a responsible political step toward eliminating their own privileges".

But his proposal would only go into effect in 2020.

Protest leaders argue that deputies should lose their legal protection sooner and back a fast-track process that could see the immunity issue resolved next year.

Lawmakers asked the Constitutional Court to also review that option -- a decision that drew cautious praise from one of the most respected protest leaders.

"It is small, but it is still a victory," Mustafa Nayem wrote on Facebook.

- Timid parliament -

The return of a tent city to Kiev underscored a growing sense among many that the promises made during the 2014 "Maidan" uprising have gone unfulfilled by Poroshenko and his Western-backed team.

"In the three years since Maidan, parliament timidly avoided the (immunity) issue. But it remembered after the people came out on the streets," Nayem wrote.

Other demands made by the protesters have not met the same success.

Three vying proposals that proponents argued would make the electoral system more transparent and help independent lawmakers gain seats all failed to get enough votes.

Deputies are also yet to schedule a debate on launching an anti-corruption court that Kiev's lenders at the International Monetary Fund have called a "benchmark" of Ukraine's progress toward Western standards.

Critics accuse Poroshenko of trying to delay or water down the anti-corruption court legislation in order to preserve the current political order.

But the Ukrainian leader sounded more receptive to the idea when addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the French city of Strasbourg last week.

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