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Ukrainian Lawmakers Back Russian-Language Bill in Final Reading

Ukraine’s parliament approved the final reading of a law allowing Russian to be used as a second official language in the former Soviet republic’s eastern half.

The bill -- which affects eleven regions, the capital, Kiev, and Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based -- was backed today by 248 of the legislature’s 450 lawmakers. To take effect, it must be signed by President Viktor Yanukovych, who said in June he would approve it.

The legislation was proposed by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and caused street protests and a scuffle among lawmakers on May 24 that left two opposition deputies hospitalized. Opposition parties were unable to prevent today’s vote, after which nine lawmakers began a hunger strike outside an exhibition hall the president is due to speak at tomorrow.

Yanukovych, who’s from the country’s east, where Russian dominates, has been campaigning for official recognition of the language. His party was backed by 27.6 percent of 2,009 eligible voters in a May 31-June 6 poll by the Kiev-based Democratic Initiative Fund. The party of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko won 25.6 percent support in the poll, which had a 2.3 percent margin of error.

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