KIEV - Ukraine's parliament moved towards granting equal rights for the Russian language on Tuesday when the ruling party rushed a contentious draft law through its first reading after forming a protective cordon around the speaker.
Opponents say the bill is a cynical ploy by President Viktor Yanukovich's Regions Party to win back disenchanted voters in its traditional power bases before a parliamentary election in October.
Opposition politician Arseny Yatseniuk denounced Regions Party deputies as traitors after the draft law, which upgrades Russian to the status of "regional language" alongside the state language Ukrainian, was backed by 234 in the 450-seat chamber.
Last month, deputies of the opposition Batkivshchyna party of jailed ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko prevented the issue going to a vote by blocking the podium, leading to a brawl.
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