Ukraine's parliament on Thursday (December 13) approved Mykola Azarov, President Viktor Yanukovich's ally, as prime minister, after the ruling Party of the Regions and its allies mastered a solid majority despite protests from the opposition.

The vote on Azarov's nomination was an early test of the support that Yanukovich, who is expected to bid for a second term as president in 2015, commands in the new chamber.

However, the vote culminated a day of rowdy scenes in parliament and protests from a re-invigorated opposition which spoke out against another term for Azarov. The opposition says the government has reneged on promises to raise living standards.

Azarov, who now faces tough talks with the International Monetary Fund, has served as prime minister since Yanukovich became president in February 2010.

Earlier, deputies wrestled with each other in a mass of bodies around the main rostrum as opposition parties tried to physically prevent a vote on the Party of Regions' candidate for speaker, Volodymyr Rybak.

The Regions' majority in support of Azarov was due in part, as with the vote in support of Volodymyr Rybak as speaker, to backing from the Regions' traditional communist allies. The Party of Regions secured 259 votes. Only 226 were required.

In equally rowdy scenes on Wednesday (December 12), opposition deputies paralyzed the session by encircling the rostrum to sabotage the ruling coalition's plans to ease Azarov rapidly into a second term as prime minister.

Opposition deputies chanted "Shame!" whenever a member of the Party of Regions spoke in Russian. They also tried to remove one Russian speaker from the rostrum, but they were held off by Regions lawmakers as Azarov looked on bemused.

The opposition, which includes deputies loyal to the jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a liberal party led by boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko and nationalists from the far-right Svoboda, accuse the ruling coalition of trying to ram through voting despite violations of parliamentary rules.

The pro-business Party of the Regions and their allies enjoyed a strong majority in the last parliament, but though it is still the biggest single party, it lost seats in the October 28 election.

They are now facing an opposition which has been re-energized by the arrival of the Svoboda nationalists and Klitschko's UDAR party. UDAR means "punch" in Ukrainian.

Klitschko stayed away from the brawling. He jokingly told the Ukrainska Pravda daily that his punches would be too dangerous as he is two metres tall.