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The Ukrainian opposition has called on parliament not to consider a controversial language bill that would lift restrictions on the use of Russian and other languages in the multilingual country.
"Let us leave this issue aside for a while," Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc deputy Volodymyr Yavoryvsky said. "This bill was already causing public dispute in its discussion stages."
Under the bill, Ukrainian would remain the only state language and restrictions would be lifted on the use of other languages spoken in the country, including Russian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Hungarian, granting them official regional status.
The opposition says the bill would put the country's sovereignty at risk and deepen Kiev's historic dependence on Moscow.
If adopted, the bill would split the country in two, opposition deputy Vyacheslav Kyrylenko said on Sunday.
Communist party leader Petro Symonenko, one of the authors of the bill, called for it to be passed as soon as possible.
"We can't get away from the existence of the language problem in the Ukrainian society. It needs to be solved," he said.
The public and political debate over the bill is exacerbated by the fact that many of the country's top politicians, including Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, cannot actually speak Ukrainian, while President Viktor Yanukovych is himself a novice speaker.
Yanukovych, who came to power on the back of strong Russian support in February, has promised to make Russian a second state language. He looks set to get parliament to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages before his time in office is out. Ukraine is already a signatory to the charter.
Russian is still used in much of Ukraine, especially in the east, the Crimea and the capital Kiev, and there is a strong movement to protect the rights of Russian speakers.
KIEV, September 20 (RIA Novosti)
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We have witnessed the total defeat of western Ukraine, Western nationalists and the West in general, which made the unfortunate decision to support the anti-government activity. They failed to realize that the collapse of Yanukovych means the collapse of Ukrainian unity. They set fire to their own home and planted a time bomb under Ukraine’s territorial integrity.