Punches Fly in Ukraine Parliament

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A session of Ukraine's new parliament collapsed amid chaos on Thursday (December 13) when brawls erupted among opposition deputies and those of the ruling party over the election of parliamentary officials.

Groups of deputies wrestled with each other in a mass of bodies around parliament's main rostrum after the opposition tried physically to block a vote on the ruling Party of the Regions' nomination for the position of speaker.

"If you right now don't stop voting by your deputies for other absent deputies, we will be forced to block parliament," opposition leader Arseny Yatseniuk warned.

In equally rowdy scenes on Wednesday (December 12), opposition deputies paralysed the session by encircling the rostrum and sabotaged plans of the ruling coalition to ease Mykola Azarov into a second term as prime minister.

On Thursday, opposition deputies swarmed around the rostrum when a vote on the appointment of Vladimir Rybak, the Regions' candidate for speaker, was about to be announced, and clashed with a group of Regions deputies.

Azarov, a staid 64-year-old conservative re-nominated by President Viktor Yanukovich for a new term as prime minister, looked on bemused as deputies tussled and wrestled with each other. The session was suspended until later in the day.

The opposition, which includes deputies loyal to jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, nationalists from the far-right Svoboda and a liberal party led by boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, accuse the ruling coalition of trying to ram through voting despite violations of parliamentary rules.

The vote on Azarov's nomination will be an early test of the support that Yanukovich, who is expected to bid for a second term as president in 2015, commands in the new chamber.

The pro-business Party of the Regions and their allies enjoyed a strong majority in the last parliament.

But though it is still the biggest single party, it lost seats in the Oct. 28 election and faces an opposition which has been re-energised by the arrival of the Svoboda nationalists and Klitschko's UDAR (Punch) party.

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