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Fistfight erupts in Ukraine parliament

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AP

Lawmakers from pro-presidential and oppositional factions in the parliament session hall in Kiev, Ukraine.

Lawmakers in the Ukrainan parliament exchanged blows during a debate over a proposed law that would make Russian an official language in much of the country, local media reported on Friday.

The Thursday evening brawl left one legislator hospitalised with stitches and forced parliament speaker Volodymyr Litvyn to close the session without a vote, the Unian news agency reported.

Opposition parliament members had piled chairs and staked out positions around the speaker's lectern inside the legislature on Friday morning, and were physically preventing Litvyn and his allies from continuing debate on the bill, witnesses said.

The pro-Russia Regions political party, led by President Viktor Yanukovych, has said the legislation is needed to allow Russian or other minority language speakers to have their children educated, and legal documents executed, in their first language.

Jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said in a statement that the bill would continue Tsarist and Soviet policies of undermining Ukrainian, and pushing Ukraine more closely into Russia's cultural orbit.

Tymoshenko was sentenced in October to seven years in prison on abuse of power charges linked to a natural gas deal made with Russia while she served as prime minister.

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Lawmakers from pro-presidential and oppositional factions fight in the parliament session hall in Kiev, Ukraine.

AP

Ukrainian is by most estimates spoken as a first language by a small majority of people living in the former Soviet republic, and is most widely used in western and northern towns, and in rural districts.

Russian is most widely spoken in Ukraine's east and south, and is also heavily used in major cities, business and media.

But all legal documents and secondary school education must by law be in Ukrainian. - Sapa-dpa


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