Chaotic protest hits Kiev amid crisis over language law
KIEV - Agence France-Presse
Riot police block opposition supporters on July 3, 2012 during a rally against a controversial Russian language bill in Kiev. AFP photoUkraine police on Wednesday used tear gas and several people were injured at a chaotic protest against a new language law as the president summoned the leaders of parliament to limit a growing crisis.
The opposition has reacted furiously to the Verkhovna Rada's rushed passing late on Tuesday of the law elevating the status of Russian, which was not on the parliament's agenda for the day.
Around 1,000 people staged an angry protest in the centre of Kiev and were rapidly involved in scuffles with anti-riot police, an AFP correspondent said.
Several people were left covered in blood and broken glass littered the street. The police used tear gas in an apparent bid to bring the situation under control.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych also summoned parliament's speakers and faction chiefs for an urgent meeting to defuse the growing standoff after Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn offered to resign.
Lytvyn has expressed outrage that he was not warned by other parliament leaders that they planned to vote on the language law and was not even present in the chamber when the vote took place.
"The president has invited the leadership of the Verkhovna Rada to discuss the situation in parliament," Yanukovych's office said in a statement.
The meeting meant that the presidency also made the unprecedented move of postponing a major news conference by Yanukovych that was scheduled at the same time and expected to be attended by hundreds of journalists.
The chaos appears to be a return to business as usual for Ukraine -- which has a well-earned reputation for political instability -- after its friendly and efficient hosting of the Euro-2012 football impressed foreign fans.
The language law was pushed through by Yanukovych's Regions Party but it is unclear if he supported the strong-arm tactics that were used to adopt it.
The bill -- which still needs to be signed by Yanukovych -- says Ukrainian is the official language but states that minority languages can be used by officials and bodies in regions where the population uses these languages.
This gives a boost to Russian, historically the language of eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula, and the opposition fears that the law will undermine the use of the Ukrainian language.
"This is not a language issue, this is a splitting of the country," Ukrainian boxing star Vitali Klitschko who heads Kiev-based political party Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform told reporters at the protest.
He said a bottle was thrown during the brawl injuring his hand.
The crowd chanted the traditionally nationalist slogans like "Glory to Ukraine, glory to heroes," and "Glory to the nation, death to the enemies," and held several signs including one that read "For the language, for Motherland."