Ukraine lawmakers brawl over austerity plans as thousands protest outside parliament

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Lawmakers threw punches in Ukraine's parliament Tuesday over a government-imposed gas price hike and retirement age increase, while thousands of protesters rallied outside against the austerity measures.

Legislators from opposition parties tried to seize control of the podium, but were wrestled back by pro-government lawmakers in a brief exchange of kicks and punches during the first session after a summer recess.

The opposition has criticized President Viktor Yanukovych's government for doubling gas prices for households and raising the women's retirement age from 55 to 60. The men's pension age remains unchanged at 60.

Both moves were key conditions of the International Monetary Fund to approve a $15 billion crisis loan in the summer.

In a brief address to the parliament, Yanukovych said he does not care if lawmakers belonged to the pro-government majority or the opposition.

"I would like common sense to outweigh emotions and political passion in the (parliament) session hall," he said.

During Tuesday's session, Yanukovych's supporters in parliament blocked the opposition's attempts to freeze the price hikes and the pension age raise.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who lost February's presidential election to Yanukovych by a narrow margin, promised some 6,000 supporters gathered outside the parliament building that her party will continue the fight.

The brawl follows an April fight in which bodyguards had to shield the parliament speaker with umbrellas from hurled eggs as lawmakers voted to ratify a controversial agreement on extending the lease for Russia's Black Sea Fleet for another 25 years through 2042.

The deal was the most concrete sign of Russia's renewed influence in Ukraine since Yanukovych succeeded Viktor Yushchenko, who had pushed to move Ukraine out of Moscow's shadow and integrate more closely with Western Europe.

"My heart bleeds over Ukraine's independence that we failed to defend," Andriy Chaban, an 85-year old opposition supporter, said outside the parliament.