Yanukovich Party Blocks Parliament

ReutersParty of the Regions members blocking the speaker's chair Friday in Kiev.
KIEV -- Ukrainian opposition members prevented the parliament from meeting Friday, blocking access to the chamber with chairs to protest steps by the pro-Western government to join NATO.

Up to two-dozen opposition members from former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's Party of the Regions and their Communist allies gathered around the speaker's seat and placed chairs at entrances to prevent access.

They also placed posters on walls reading "No To NATO!" "NATO-Never!" or "NATO away from the Black Sea."

Outside the parliament, hundreds of protesters held noisy rallies in support and against the moves to join NATO.

Parliament Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk said deputies were working in committees to restart parliamentary debates, including when and how to hold a referendum.

"For now, there are no grounds for holding a referendum," Yatsenyuk said.

Preventing the parliament from meeting has been used as a tactic by both sides in a variety of debates that roughly bisect Ukraine into a nationalist western half that looks westward and a Russian-speaking eastern half that feels closer to Moscow.

Similar tactics, also linked to the NATO debate, prevented a session last week.