Parliament Opens Final Session

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's parliament opened its final session Tuesday before next month's highly charged elections, with the speaker pleading for civility from the country's rabble-rousing deputies.

Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn

"I call on you to maintain the professional code and be honest and decent," Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said, addressing a body of lawmakers, who have occasionally resorted to fist fights and personal insults to express their views.

Lytvyn acknowledged that "political issues will dominate" as lawmakers prepare for the March 26 race to fill the 450-seat parliament, but said "the main task is to prevent any unrest."

The election will usher in political changes in Ukraine that give far more power to parliament, including the right to name the prime minister and Cabinet members.

With opinion polls showing that no one party will win a majority, the ex-Soviet republic is headed for its first ever coalition government. The makeup will determine whether Ukraine maintains the pro-western path adopted by President Viktor Yushchenko after the Orange Revolution or slides back into Russia's orbit.

The changes mean that "the government will be formed in a legitimate way for the first time," Lytvyn said.

The session opened with the singing of the national hymn in the presence of Yushchenko's prime minister and Cabinet - the same people who parliament last month voted to sack in protest over a gas price deal with Russia. Yushchenko has ignored the vote and defended the deal, which saw prices for Ukraine rise nearly twofold.

Source: AP