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Ukraine's Party of Regions blocked the country's parliamentary rostrum Friday demanding
Ukraine's Party of Regions blocked the country's parliamentary rostrum Friday demanding the withdrawal of Ukrainian peacekeepers from Kosovo and the defense minister's resignation.

Over 20 Ukrainian peacekeepers were wounded and one later died in hospital following clashes in the Serb-dominated area of Mitrovica on March 17, when UN police and NATO-led KFOR troops launched an operation to regain control of a UN court building seized last week by ethnic Serbs.

As the Supreme Rada began its work on Friday morning, the Party of Regions proposed a bill on the withdrawal of Ukrainian peacekeepers from Kosovo, which was unanimously rejected by parliamentary coalition.

The Party of Regions, led by former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, also demanded that Defense Minister Yuriy Lutsenko resign for giving misleading information on the Kosovo incident.

"He [Lutsenko] said NATO had no connection to this operation. But the operation was commanded by KFOR, which has a direct link to NATO," Nestor Shufrych, one of the party's leaders, said.

The defense minister earlier called on parliament not to make any decision on the issue of the withdrawal of troops from Kosovo and asked the Party of Regions to avoid speculation regarding NATO, adding that the operation was conducted under the command of the UN mission in Kosovo.

Yanukovych's party blamed the death of the Ukrainian peacekeeper on the country's authorities, which are seeking NATO membership, saying they were putting political interests before the lives of Ukrainians.

Lutsenko blamed the UN for the incident and said that the organization should launch an investigation into the incident to find and bring those responsible for the soldier's death to justice.

Serb rioters attacked UN forces with rocks, grenades and Molotov cocktails as they tried to remove protesters from inside the courthouse.

In all, more than 60 UN police and KFOR troops, and over 70 Serb protesters were wounded in the worst outbreak of violence in the region since Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on February 17.

Work by the Supreme Rada was blocked for a few weeks last month by the Party of Regions and the Communist Party, who demanded a referendum on the country's accession to the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP).

The NATO-Ukraine commission is due to hold a meeting during the alliance's summit in Bucharest, Romania, on April 2-4, 2008.


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