KIEV, Ukraine – A violent brawl between supporters of the president and opposition lawmaker broke out in parliament on Thursday, nearly overshadowing the naming of a new pro-government speaker to lead the fractious body.
The Party of Regions led by President Viktor Yanukovych secured a slim majority in the Verkhovna Rada on Thursday following an October election condemned as unfair by the West. But three opposition parties made a strong showing and vowed to challenge Yanukovych's grip on power.
Some took that literally. For the second day of the new parliament's work, fists flew as opposition lawmakers chanted "Shame! Shame!" and "No to defectors!"
Shortly after parliament began its work Thursday morning, opposition lawmakers swarmed the parliament's podium and a fight erupted with pro-government legislators. Lawmakers wrestled with each other and some deputies were knocked over in the melee.
Opposition lawmakers were angry over the fact that some of their opponents continued the controversial practice of voting in place of their absent colleagues, despite a recent ban.
Yanukovych ally Volodymyr Rybak, a 66-year-old former mayor of the eastern city of Donetsk, interrupted his speech in frustration.
"Esteemed deputies, let us calm down," he said as the fight continued and he was widely ignored.
After a short break was announced and the fight ended, Rybak was elected parliament speaker in a 250-450 vote by Yanukovych allies. The opposition refused to take part.