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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Lawmakers Brawl In Debate Over WTO Entry

KIEV -- More than a dozen lawmakers brawled in the Ukrainian parliament on Wednesday during a debate over legislation needed for Ukraine's entry into the World Trade Organization.

The fight broke out as Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was trying to speak in support of the 14-bill package. Communists and pro-government lawmakers swung punches, and parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn called for order as wailing sirens went off in the hall to drown out debate.

Communists -- who had earlier interrupted the session by seizing the rostrum and shouting "Shame! Shame!" -- claim the measures will make the Ukrainian economy subservient to foreign demands. Petro Symonenko, head of the Communist Party, said the measures would be a betrayal of Ukraine's national interests.

"It would be a blow against the Ukrainian people and our national producers," lawmaker Volodymyr Yeshchenko said.

The new pro-Western government has set WTO membership as a major goal, saying it would help attract the massive foreign investment needed to raise living standards.

Foreign investors have told Ukrainian officials that they need to pass the legislation before parliament breaks for summer recess on Friday.

Lawmakers first approved legislation on the protection of intellectual property rights over compact disc production, then began voting on other parts of the package.

Lytvyn shouted to make himself heard, as bullhorns and sirens sounded and the Communists hovered next to him on the speaker's platform. The measures continued to move forward amid the turmoil, suggesting the package might pass. Each time one of the government's bills was approved for consideration, Tymoshenko gave the thumbs-up sign.

Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Rybachuk said the piracy bill was the most important, and he said he was optimistic that Ukraine would join the WTO this fall even if the entire package was not adopted.

Socialist Party lawmaker Mykola Rudkovsky opposed the measures but also thought the chances were good that the package of WTO bills would pass.

Piracy of movies and music is rampant in Ukraine, which has been repeatedly criticized by the international community for its failure to crack down on the problem. The legislation, which imposes harsher penalties, was one of the key requirements for WTO membership.