Ukraine’s parliament erupted into chaos yesterday as deputies scuffled and hurled smoke bombs during a tumultuous session that ratified a bitterly contested deal with Russia extending a naval base lease.
Despite the extraordinary scenes that saw the Verkhovna Rada filled with smoke, the parliament ratified the deal to extend the stay of the Russsian Black Sea fleet that the opposition has denounced as a sell-out for Ukraine.
The uproar started when the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Volodymyr Lytvyn, was pelted with a volley of eggs, forcing him to duck for cover behind two black umbrellas held by two besuited aides.
A smoke bomb was then thrown, apparently by pro-Western opposition deputies, and the chamber filled with smoke, making it difficult to watch proceedings. Some deputies covered their noses or put on masks as alarms sounded.
Punches were then exchanged on the deputies’ benches and one deputy was even seen thumping another on the head.
A second smoke bomb was thrown shortly afterwards, creating thicker smoke in the chamber but deputies nonetheless continued their rancorous debate, shouting at times to be heard in the noisy chaos, a correspondent in the chamber reported.
Deputies also started fighting over a massive Ukrainian flag in the middle of the chamber, twisting and distorting the yellow and blue banner as smoke continued to billow in the chamber.
Andriy Shevchenko, a member of parliament from the bloc headed by Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, acknowledged that the smoke bombs were thrown by “our deputies.”
He said the action was justified.
“History will be our judge,” Shevchenko said. “In principle, the mood was to use all means possible short of guns.”
Amid the chaos, some deputies tried to push on with their business as if nothing extraordinary was taking place, with speakers taking to the floor.
With some lawmakers shouting “Shame, Shame,” the parliament ratified the pact with 236 lawmakers voting in favor of the deal in the 450 seat chamber.
“Neither smoke bombs, eggs throwing, nor fighting is going to prevent the majority from taking its decisions,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said after the session.
The deputies were ratifying the deal signed last week by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych to extend the lease on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet naval base in Crimea until at least 2042.
The deal had been slammed by the pro-Western Ukrainian opposition, including Tymoshenko and former president Viktor Yushchenko, as a historic surrender of sovereignty.
Olexander Yefreimov, a top deputy from Yanukovych’s Regions Party said the culprits behind the chaos would be revealed from video tapes and this “is now a matter for law enforcement.”
Thousands of supporters of Ukraine’s previous pro-Western government protested outside parliament over the decision, shouting “Death to Traitors” and “Crimea is Ours.”
In Moscow, Russia’s lower house of parliament the State Duma ratified the deal with 410 deputies voting in favor and none against without a hint of dissent.
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