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Ukraine accuses former war hero of plotting parliament attack

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s top prosecutor on Thursday accused an ex-military helicopter navigator, who became a national hero after being held in a Russian jail, of planning an attack on parliament.

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Nadiya Savchenko, responded with disdain to the accusations, denying she had called for bloodshed, but saying she would like to see a military coup against Ukraine’s political establishment, Interfax Ukraine reported.

General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko said Savchenko, who became a member of parliament on her return from Russia, had planned an attack on parliament - which never happened - using grenades, mortars and automatic weapons.

The accusations mark a fall from grace for Savchenko, whose steely defiance while on trial in Russia, including hunger strikes and showing a judge the middle finger live on TV, earned her the nickname of Ukraine’s “Joan of Arc”.

She returned in May 2016 to great fanfare after a prisoner exchange with Russia but developed a reputation for being fiery and unpredictable. Given a standing ovation when she first addressed parliament in 2016, she proceeded to berate her fellow lawmakers for being “lazy schoolchildren”.

Lutsenko said he would ask parliament to vote to remove Savchenko’s immunity so she could be arrested.

“The investigation has irrefutable proof that Nadiya Savchenko ... personally planned, personally recruited, personally gave instructions about how to commit a terrorist act here, in this chamber,” Lutsenko said.

Savchenko, 36, said she welcomed the accusations, Interfax Ukraine reported.

“They’re good since I am an officer of the Ukrainian armed forces and, as an officer of the Ukrainian armed forces, I swore an oath to the Ukrainian people to protect the Ukrainian land and certainly not the Ukrainian authorities,” she was quoted as saying.

“I know that there are a lot of servicemen who are listening to me, who absolutely agree with the view that a military coup in Ukraine is rather expected and probably a fairly correct development,” she said.

Savchenko was captured on the frontline in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists and held in jail in Russia on murder charges that she said were fabricated. She became a symbol of resistance against Russia to many Ukrainians.

Since her return she has held talks with the separatists without the government’s consent and published secret lists of people who were captured or are missing in the conflict.

In January 2017, lawmakers called for an investigation into what they said were Savchenko’s anti-Ukrainian actions after she suggested Ukraine would have to relax its claim on Crimea - annexed by Russia in 2014 - to win back control of the Donbass region where the pro-Russia rebels hold sway.

Writing by Alessandra Prentice; editing by Matthias Williams and Robin Pomeroy