The Ukrainian parliament has ratified a deal extending the lease for a Russian Navy base in Crimea, despite brawls in the chamber and clashes outside parliament.
The deal extends the lease on a Russian base in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol for 25 years after the current lease expires in 2017, and may be further extended by another five years. In return, Ukraine will receive a 30% discount on Russian natural gas.
The agreement, signed by the presidents of the two states last week, sparked controversy in the former Soviet republic, which is largely pro-Russian in the east and pro-Western in the west.
The hearings started with a brawl and eggs were thrown at the Supreme Rada speaker. The rostrum was guarded by lawmakers of the Party of Regions, who protected the speaker with umbrellas from missiles being hurled at him.
Sporadic brawls broke out in parliament during the hearings and two smoke bombs were also thrown.
However, it took lawmakers 40 minutes to ratify the deal with 236 votes, just above the required simple majority in the 450-seat parliament.
Despite anger from the opposition, Ukraine has little chance to renege the deal as its refusal to honor the treaty would be a breach of international law. Under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a treaty which does not stipulate the right of secession may be terminated only in the case of a radical change of circumstances.
Ukrainian opposition activists have finished their protest rally in front of the Supreme Rada and are now leaving the area, but the president's supporters are staying in their so-called tent city, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported on Tuesday.
Ukrainian nationalist movement Svoboda paralyzed traffic as it marched along Kiev's main street, Khreshchatik, chanting "Down with Yanukovych!" "Hail Ukraine!" and "Death to our enemies!"
About 7,000 protestors and supporters gathered in front of parliament, according to police estimates. Despite numerous clashes with police and pro-presidential forces, no serious injuries were reported.
Traffic in the city center, which was halted during the rally, has already resumed.
"SEVASTOPOL, CRIMEA, RUSSIA!"
The sound of car horns and shouts of "Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia!" and "Sevastopol and the fleet are indivisible" rang through Sevastopol, as the city where Russian Black Sea Fleet's main base is located welcomed the extension of the lease agreement.
Residents gathered on Tuesday afternoon near the monument to Russian Empress Catherine the Great to show their support for President Viktor Yanukovych.
The crowd marched in the city center, waving Russian tricolors and St. Andrew's flags, the symbol of the Russian Navy.
SIDES EXCHANGE THREATS
Former Ukrainian premier Yulia Tymoshenko, accompanied by lawmakers from her eponymous political party, entered the parliament building to attend a closed meeting of her party's faction in parliament.
Tymoshenko said earlier on Tuesday that ratification of the deal was "a black page" in the country's history, and called for a popular uprising against the current leadership. She said she would tour Ukraine "to unite people" against the "gang which is now in power."
She said she would also seek early elections to choose a new parliament which would denounce the deal.
Yushchenko accused the present government of "a military usurpation" and "trading sovereignty for gas."
The two former allies in the pro-Western 2004 Orange Revolution are however seem to be reluctant to join forces again.
The leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok, made a more radical announcement, saying that his movement would kickstart a revolution in Ukraine.
"From now on the new Ukrainian national revolution begins," he said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov pledged "an adequate and tough" response to those trying to escalate tensions between pro-Russian and pro-Western forces.
"We already said that we can respond to force with force, but will never be the first to use it. If anyone tries to apply the 'language of force,' he will get an adequate and tough response," he said.
RUSSIA HAILS THE DEAL
Lawmakers of Russia's State Duma greeted the Ukrainian parliament's ratification with applause.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the ratification showed "a triumph of reason and strategic interests over short-term emotions." He also said that the rent which Russia would pay is high but not overpriced.
"We hope such relations will continue forever; they are ancestral links. Such friendship should be accompanied by mutual support," Medvedev said.
State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the deal "heralded a new stage in relations between our countries."
His deputy, Vyacheslav Volodin, also praised the treaty as "beneficial for both sides."
"The presence of the [Russian] fleet in Sevastopol is a deterrent factor for any aggression," he said.
Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the State Duma's foreign affairs committee said the "parliamentary majority in Ukraine made the right choice."
The lower chamber of the Russian parliament also ratified the agreement half an hour after Ukraine's Supreme Rada passed the bill. A total of 410 deputies of the 450-strong parliament voted for the deal.
KIEV, April 27 (RIA Novosti)