Ukraine activists protest Russia language bill

About 1,000 opposition activists were rallying in the capital of Ukraine on Thursday to protest legislation upgrading the status of the Russian language.

The Ukrainian parliament passed the bill Tuesday that would allow the use of Russian in courts, education and other government institutions in Russian-speaking regions of the country.

Members of Ukraine's pro-Western opposition say that such a law would effectively smother the Ukrainian language by removing any incentive for millions of Russian-speaking Ukrainians to learn it. They also say it would bring Ukraine back into the Russian orbit and torpedo its efforts to forge closer ties with the European Union.

The activists — mostly students, dressed in traditional embroidered shirts — gathered Thursday outside a government building in the capital, Kiev. Some of them waved national flags and chanted "East and West together!" and "No to the split of Ukraine!" Riot police in full gear stood by.

Seven opposition lawmakers who announced a hunger strike against the legislation on Wednesday were among the demonstrators.

The controversial bill has yet to be signed by the president to become law.

Lawmakers loyal to President Viktor Yanukovych, who draws his support from the Russian-speaking east and south, rushed the bill through the parliament, without giving the opposition much chance to oppose it in a debate. Parliament's speaker, whose signature on the bill is required before it is given to the president, resigned in protest.

Tuesday's passage of the legislation caused clashes between protesters and riot police.