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Ukrainian parliament elects speaker, PM amid fistfights

Posted on Dec 14, 06:29AM | IANS

The new Ukrainian parliament finally managed to choose a speaker and re-elect Mykola Azarov as prime minister Thursday after two days of brawling among deputies in the chamber crippled its inaugural session.

Images of the physical free-for-all, in which opposition deputies took on rivals from the ruling Party of Regions in the Verkhovna Rada's first session Wednesday, made international headlines.

The new parliament, elected in the Oct 28 elections, was widely expected to be divisive after opposition forces made considerable gains.

Those expectations were first borne out Wednesday, as opposition deputies blocked the Party of Regions' attempt to re-elect Azarov. They also descended on the rostrum Thursday in a failed attempt to derail the vote for Volodymyr Rybak as speaker.

Members from the Ukrainian female protest group FEMEN, known for its outlandish nude demonstrations, attempted to break into the Rada Wednesday before being detained.

While the Party of Regions, which successfully fielded both Rybak and Azarov, remains the largest faction in the 450-seat body with 210 seats, imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland opposition faction and world champion boxer Vitaly Klitschko's Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms (UDAR) now hold 99 and 42 seats respectively.

The nationalist All-Ukrainian Union "Freedom" also enjoyed a surge in the polls, now holding 37 seats.

The latter three forces tentatively agreed after the elections to cooperate in torpedoing legislation backed by the ruling party.

The Verkhovna Rada has a long history of physical altercations between lawmakers.

Klitschko, one of the world's foremost heavyweight boxers, chose to abstain from the fighting, however.