KIEV - Police fired teargas and used batons to disperse hundreds of protesters in Kiev on Wednesday and Ukraine's parliament speaker offered to quit after the passing of a law to boost the status of the Russian language in the former Soviet republic.

Protesters, led by opposition members of parliament defending the role of Ukrainian as the only state language, and massed in front of a building where President Viktor Yanukovich was due to hold a press briefing.

The chamber approved the language bill on Tuesday, minutes after a surprise proposal by a pro-Yanukovich deputy, giving opponents little time to cast their vote and prompting scuffles both in parliament and on the streets.

"There are millions of us and they cannot pretend that nothing has happened," said Vitali Klitschko, the world heavyweight boxing champion who has founded his own opposition party - Udar (Blow), and took part in Wednesday's protest.

Protesters urged Yanukovich, who had planned a celebratory statement to crown the successful co-hosting of the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, to veto the bill, pushed through by his own majority Party of Regions.

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