Kiev - Hundreds of Ukrainians rallied outside parliament on Friday to demand the interior minister be fired in the wake of police scandals including an alleged rape.

The protesters, mostly young people wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus, lit flares and burnt an old police car as they demanded the departure of longtime minister Arsen Avakov.

Some held placards reading “No to the police state!” and “Avakov must be fired!”

“It is a terrible situation when law enforcement agencies, who live off of our taxes, torture Ukrainians,” activist Dana Vynogradova told the protesters, adding: “Avakov must go.”

Many Ukrainians have been disappointed by the failure of a Western-backed effort launched in 2015 to reform the notoriously corrupt and often ineffective police force. Outrage has been building after a police officer allegedly raped a 26-year-old woman at a police station in the town of Kagarlyk outside the capital Kiev.

The woman was allegedly forced to put on a gas mask and handcuffed before being raped several times. Two officers were detained over the incident last month.

Critics have also accused police in Kiev of failing to do their duty after a brazen shootout last week between gangs linked to rival bus companies left three people wounded. Avakov, who has been interior minister since 2014 and kept his post after the election last year of President Volodymyr Zelensky, defended himself before lawmakers in parliament on Friday.

He said authorities had reacted immediately to the “shameful” rape allegations and that steps would be taken to prevent further abuses.

“I ask you not to condemn the entire police force because of several bastards,” he said.