Ukraine's parliament erupted into chaos on Tuesday 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 parliament -- the Verkhovna Rada -- filled with smoke, lawmakers ratified the deal to extend the stay of the Russian Black Sea fleet until at least 2042, denounced by the opposition as a sell-out for Ukraine.
The uproar started when the parliament speaker, Volodymr Lytvyn, was pelted with a volley of a dozen eggs, forcing him to duck for cover behind black umbrellas held by two aides.
|Security personnel protect the Speaker of Ukraine's parliament Volodymyr Liytvyn with umbrellas during a fight at a parliament sitting in Kiev.|
Several smoke bombs were thrown, apparently by pro-Western opposition deputies, filling the chamber with smoke. Some deputies covered their faces or held handkerchiefs to their noses as alarms sounded.
A fistfight broke out on the deputies' benches and one lawmaker was seen thumping a colleague on the head. Another gripped a fellow deputy in a headlock as others piled in with eager punches.
Andriy Shevchenko, a member of parliament from the bloc headed by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, acknowledged that the smoke bombs were thrown by "our deputies".
But he called the action 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 business and give their floor speeches as if nothing extraordinary was taking place.
While some shouted "Shame, Shame!" the parliament ratified the pact with Moscow, 236 lawmakers voting in favour of the deal in the 450 seat chamber.
"Neither smoke bombs, egg-throwing, nor fighting is going to prevent the majority from taking its decisions," said Prime Minister Mykola Azarov 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 for another 25 years after 2017, with the option of another five year extension after 2042.
Russia has agreed to give Ukraine a 30 percent discount on Russian natural gas imports estimated to be worth 40 billion dollars over 10 years.
The deal had been slammed by the pro-Western Ukrainian opposition, including Tymoshenko and former president Viktor Yushchenko, as a historic surrender of sovereignty.
Putin, who held talks with the Ukrainian leadership in the early hours of Tuesday, expressed scorn for the opposition deputies behind the action but praised the majority for backing the deal.
"Despite the tricks of hooligans in the opposition, this means that a new path to the stabilisation of the political situation in Ukraine has opened," Putin said.
Medvedev, on a visit to Norway, joked that there had been a "small concert... with special effects," but said he was glad "the strategic interests of Ukraine have prevailed over momentary emotions."
In Moscow, Russia's lower house of parliament the State Duma ratified the deal with 410 deputies in favour and none against, and in stark contrast without the slightest hint of dissent.
The accord was set to pass its final legislative hurdle in Russia on Wednesday when the upper house, the Federation Council, votes on the deal.
Thousands of supporters of Ukraine's previous pro-Western government protested outside parliament over the decision, shouting "Death to Traitors" and "Crimea is Ours".
Tymoshenko told her supporters to hold another protest on May 11 to force snap elections for the parliament, which currently has a pro-Yanukovych majority.
"From today we are starting to unite all the country," she said.
The fleet deal marked a dramatic turnaround in Russian-Ukrainian ties after the relationship deteriorated under Yanukovych's predecessor, the fiercely pro-Western Yushchenko, that Moscow refused to do business with him.