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Ukrainian MPs brawl in Parliament

MPs of the opposition fight with MPs of the majority party during the opening of the newly elected Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev. Photo: AFP

MPs of the opposition fight with MPs of the majority party during the opening of the newly elected Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev. Photo: AFP

The Ukrainian Parliament yesterday voted to reinstate its Prime Minister after dozens of opposition and pro-government lawmakers brawled for a second day in the chamber notorious for its fistcuffs.

Newly-elected world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko sought to stand above the fray by staying well out of the fighting that came just before parliament voted to re-appoint Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

Deputies in suits and shirtsleeves climbed on tables, shouted and grappled with opponents in an angry protest against lawmakers pressing electronic buttons to vote for absentee colleagues.

While lawmakers are legally obliged to vote in person, many of them run around pressing buttons for absent colleagues.

Opposition politicians rose to their feet and rushed to blockade the speaker’s tribune, while being pushed back by pro-government lawmakers.

Amid angry shouts and calls for calm, some clambered on desks from where they dealt blows and jumped down on opponents.

At least one opposition lawmaker had a bruised face after being thrown to the floor and receiving punches and kicks from ruling party lawmakers, the Interfax news agency reported.

The towering boxing champion Klitschko, whose opposition party UDAR, or punch, has won 42 seats in the Parliament, refrained from joining the skirmishes and could be seen seated, watching the fight calmly.

“You could call the fists of a world champion a nuclear weapon. I don’t think we will use this weapon yet,” Klitschko said, quoted by his party press service.

But he added: “We do support the blockading of the tribune.”

After a break, the Parliament managed to restore calm and hold a vote to reappoint Prime Minister Azarov that had been postponed from Wednesday.

A total of 252 deputies out of 450 in the single-chamber parliament supported Azarov’s return to office, including President Viktor Yanukovych’s ruling Regions Party, the Communists and several independents. Three opposition factions – Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party close to jailed ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the UDAR party of Klitschko and the Svoboda nationalist movement – did not back Azarov.

“The politics of the Regions Party of which Azarov is a representative is anti-Ukrainian, anti-social and anti-democratic,” said comments from Svoboda.

It remained unclear why Azarov, 64, took the dramatic step of resigning earlier this month, with the presidency saying at the time that Yanukovych had accepted his request to give up his post and become an MP.

Azarov called on the Parliament to leave behind the “confrontation” to “face together outside challenges” including the global economic crisis that is already hurting Ukraine.

The Parliament’s opening session on Wednesday had earlier seen fighting erupt between opposition lawmakers and deputies whom they accused of defecting to the pro-government camp.

In a typically raucous session, feminist group Femen also staged a topless anti-corruption protest outside the entrance to the Parliament wearing only black pants.

The brawls were an ugly start to a new parliament apparently still controlled by Yanukovych’s Regions Party, which claims to have won a majority in legislative elections on October 28. The October polls were widely criticised by the international community, coming as Tymoshenko continues to serve a seven-year prison term for abuse of power that she argues is politically motivated.

The Ukrainian parliament is often the scene of scuffles with lawmakers throwing eggs and letting off smokebombs.

Two years ago several opposition deputies were badly injured in a bloody brawl prompted by the opening of a criminal probe into Tymoshenko that saw punches thrown and chairs hurled.

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