UPDATE 1-S.Korean parliament passes budget as fists fly

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Wednesday, 8 December 2010 09:14 GMT

* Parliament approves 2011 budget of ${esc.dollar}273 bln

* Lawmakers approve higher defence budget

(Updates with the parliament's approval)

SEOUL, Dec 8 (Reuters) - South Korea's government rammed through the 2011 budget on Wednesday amid brawls between lawmakers over billions of dollars of spending on controversial projects to clean up the country's rivers.

The 2011 budget will be 309.1 trillion won (${esc.dollar}273 billion), slightly smaller than the 309.6 trillion won proposed by the government, the Finance Ministry said in a statement, although it is about 6 percent more than this year's budget of 292.8 trillion won.

The defence budget was increased to 31.4 trillion won after North Korea shelled a South Korean island last month, triggering a tense standoff that has drawn in the United States and China.

Calling government members of parliament "lapdogs", opposition members from the Democratic Party blockaded parliament offices and the main hall for a second day and parliamentary guards were brought in to restore order.

On Tuesday night, dozens of opposition lawmakers and their aides fought with members of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP). One GNP lawmaker was taken to hospital after being hit on the head with a gavel during the scuffle.

The opposition had wanted a reduction of 11.3 trillion won in spending and their plans would have made cuts in the "four rivers project", a pet plan of President Lee Myung-bak that opponents say is pork-barrel politics and will damage the environment.

The state is pushing to allocate 9.6 trillion won next year for the four rivers project which it says will help prevent floods and enhance water quality.

South Korea's budget is always a fraught affair and is usually passed at the last minute on Dec. 31. (${esc.dollar}1=1132.0 won) (Reporting by Jeremy Laurence and Cheon Jong-woo, Additional reporting by Yeojung Chang; Editing by Robert Birsel) (If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com)

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