Ukraine bans workplace discrimination against gays

Kiev (AFP) - Ukraine's parliament Thursday finally banned discrimination against gays in the workplace during a heated session on legislation that could open the door to visa-free travel to much of the EU in 2016.

The controversial bill in the deeply conservative eastern European country had failed on two previous occasions in the past week.

But it mustered the required parliamentary majority after an astonishing six consecutive votes in a raucous morning session.

One constitutional expert told AFP that the entire adoption process seemed illegal but that such manoeuvring was becoming common in the war-scarred and at times seemingly rudderless former Soviet state.

Parliament speaker Volodymyr Groysman told lawmakers after they had collected the required 234 votes in the 450-seat chamber that the change did not alter Ukraine's "traditional values" or offer same-sex marriage rights.

"The main values of any country are people and their rights. I stand with you in favour of family values," Groysman said after the final vote.

"I hear all sorts of fake comments about how Ukraine could no adopt some sort of same-sex marriages. God forbid that this should happen," said the close ally of Western-backed President Petro Poroshenko.

"We would never support that," Groysman stressed.

Poroshenko echoed the parliamentary speaker's comments in a tweet.

"Ukraine is breaking the shackles of its Soviet past," Poroshenko wrote. "And family values -- they are indestructible."

Some experts said it was simply illegally for the speaker to require deputies to keep voting until the government's agenda was met.

"If a draft law is not adopted in the first reading, it is sent for a review and possible revisions, and then voted on again in the subsequent session," Mykola Davydiuk of Kiev's Politika research centre told AFP.

"But there are about 10 Groysman allies who -- when a piece of legislation they like fails -- simply announce that their voting cards did not work properly," Davydiuk said.

"This had been our practise for a while now."

There was no immediate comment from EU officials about either the bill's adoption or the way it was passed.

- Grim view of gays -

The European Union in 2010 urged Ukraine -- where past Soviet rulers viewed gays as criminals who should either be sent to prisons or psychiatric hospitals -- to clearly define the rights of gay people in the workplace.

Kiev decriminalised gay relationships a year after the Soviet Union's 1991 breakup but still takes a grim view of same-sex couples.

A gay pride parade held near Kiev in June lasted just minutes before a far-right group attacked it without any apparent intervention from the police.

Brussels wants Ukraine -- which overthrew its former Moscow-backed leadership last year -- to adopt 13 laws that take a tougher approach on corruption and ensure broader basic rights.

Most have now been adopted. But time is running out because an EU commission will review on December 15 whether Kiev has done enough to merit visa-free travel by the middle of next year.

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