Ukraine rages over Russian language status (VIDEO)

Ukraine’s parliament, the Supreme Rada, has adopted in the first reading a bill that grants Russian the status of regional language in 13 out of the country's 27 regions. Police reportedly resorted to tear gas as thousands of people rallied outside.

Some 9,000 people – both supporters and opponents of the new legislation – demonstrated outside the parliament building in the capital Kiev, reported Interfax.

Opponents say law enforcement used tear gas to dispel them. Some took a rather aggressive stance, as young people tried to break into the Parliament. The police pushed them back.

Around 234 out of 248 lawmakers present at the session on Tuesday voted for the draft law on the principles of state language policy, initiated by the ruling Party of Regions.

Before being adopted, the document has yet to pass a second reading. If the bill is approved, Russian will become an official language in regions of the former Soviet republic where at least 10 per cent of the population are Russian speakers.

The opposition though is set to continue fighting against the legislation.

“There will be no law on Russian as a second language in Ukraine,” stated the Front of Change leader, MP Arseniy Yatsenyuk. “We haven’t won this battle, but we will win the war,” he added.

Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc deputies walked out of the parliament hall in protest at the first reading being accepted.

“We guarantee that there will be no second reading (of the bill) in the Supreme Rada,” MP Anrdey Shkil vowed.

The authors of the legislation stress that the bill stipulates that Ukrainian remains the only state language, but expands the rights of languages of national minorities. Party of Regions deputy Vadim Kolesnichenko promised to organize a national discussion of the bill before its adoption by the Rada.

"If it’s necessary, we are ready to take into account suggestions and amendments to every article and then discuss the bill clause-by-clause," he said, as cited by Itar-Tass.

On May 24, the Rada already attempted to adopt the bill. However, the session ended with a fistfight between opposition and majority party deputies.

A riot policeman (R, back) uses tear-gas to block opposition supporters during a rally against a draft law on languages, which was scheduled to be discussed during a session in the Ukrainian parliament, near the parliament building in Kiev June 5, 2012 (Reuters/Anatolii Stepanov)
A riot policeman (R, back) uses tear-gas to block opposition supporters during a rally against a draft law on languages, which was scheduled to be discussed during a session in the Ukrainian parliament, near the parliament building in Kiev June 5, 2012 (Reuters/Anatolii Stepanov)