Ukrainian parliament elects Azarov as PM after brawls
KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's parliament on Thursday approved Mykola Azarov, President Viktor Yanukovich's ally, as prime minister, after the ruling Party of the Regions and its allies mustered a solid majority despite raucous protests from the opposition.
Azarov, 64, who now faces tough talks with the International Monetary Fund, has served as prime minister since Yanukovich became president in February 2010 and was voted in for a second term in office by 252 votes from the 450-seat chamber.
"We must find compromise on (the issue of) co-operation with the IMF," he told the chamber.
Azarov's government lost access to the previous IMF program in early 2011 after refusing to raise household gas and heating prices to cut the budget deficit. Azarov said in October he still hoped to avoid price hikes.
The Fund, which insists on price increases, plans to send a mission to Kiev in late January. Ukraine needs fresh IMF loans to refinance at least some of $9 billion in state foreign debt falling due next year.
The vote on Azarov's nomination was an early test of the support that Yanukovich, who is expected to bid for a second term as president in 2015, commands in the new chamber.
But it culminated a day of rowdy scenes in parliament and protests from a re-invigorated opposition which spoke out against another term for Azarov. It says his government has reneged on promises to raise living standards.
Earlier, deputies wrestled with each other in a mass of bodies around the main rostrum as opposition parties tried physically to block a vote on the Regions' candidate for speaker.
The Regions' majority in support of Azarov was due in part - as with the vote in support of Volodymyr Rybak as speaker - to backing from the Regions' traditional communist allies.
The opposition, which includes deputies loyal to jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, nationalists from the far-right Svoboda and a liberal party led by boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, accuse the ruling coalition of trying to ram through voting despite violations of parliamentary rules.
Opposition deputies, in particular, chanted "Shame!" when Regions MPs spoke Russian, which is the main language in their eastern Ukraine power base, and demanded that two lawmakers who had defected from opposition ranks be stripped of mandates.
The pro-business Party of the Regions and their allies enjoyed a strong majority in the last parliament.
But though it is still the biggest single party, it lost seats in the October 28 election and faces an opposition which has been re-energized by the arrival of the Svoboda nationalists and Klitschko's UDAR (Punch) party.
The two-meter-tall Klitschko stayed away from the brawling this week, jokingly telling the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper on Thursday that his punches would be too dangerous.
"I understand that many people want Klitschko to launch an offensive but I would like to remind (them) that, for example, in the United States a boxer's fists are considered weapons and the fists of a world champion are considered nuclear weapons," he said.
"We will not use these weapons for now."
(Writing by Richard Balmforth and Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Andrew Roche)
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