Police had to intervene to allow judges in for the second day of hearings into the legality of a presidential decree dissolving parliament for thousand of opponents of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych blocked the entrances to Ukraine's Constitutional Court on Wednesday.
The session began more than an hour late after helmeted police linked arms and formed a corridor to usher judges through a scrum of flag-waving demonstrators, which included rival lawmakers pushing and shoving each other outside the court's black metal gates.
The hearing began with 16 of the 18 judges in place, said Chief Judge Ivan Dombrovsky.
Pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko signed the dissolution decree on April 2, accusing his archrival Yanukovych of trying to usurp power. Yanukovych and his majority in parliament said the move was unconstitutional and appealed to the Constitutional Court.
The standoff has plunged this ex-Soviet republic into its worst political crisis since the 2004 protests that propelled Yushchenko to power and became known as the Orange Revolution.
Both Yushchenko and Yanukovych have agreed to abide by whatever the court rules, but the bloc of former Premier Yulia Tymoshenko and political parties allied with Yushchenko have contended that the court is too corrupt to render a just decision.
Yushchenko claimed in a letter to the court that a relative of one of judges, Syuzanna Stanik, had received property worth US$12 million (EUR8.8 million) in an attempt to sway her opinion. Stanik denied the charges, and the Prosecutor General's office also called the allegations baseless.
"We are standing here for justice," said Maryna Yeshchenko, 21, a Kiev student holding a Tymoshenko party flag - a red heart on a white field. She was one of about 6,000 flag-waving demonstrators who support the president's dissolution order. Yeshchenko called on the judges to make a fair decision.
Yanukovych's coalition also brought out about 1,000 supporters clad in his party's blue color. Denys Naunenko, 24, a miner from Yanukovych's hometown of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, said he was there to demonstrate his opposition to new elections, which he called "shameful for Ukraine."
"It will hurt people's pockets," he said. "We want to become part of the European Union, but who will take us now?"