Ukraine parliament dismisses defiant president-UPDATED

President Viktor Yanukovich has refused to step down after being forced out of Kiev

Ukraine parliament dismisses defiant president-UPDATED

World Bulletin / News Desk

The Ukrainian parliament voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovich on Saturday and set an early election for May 25, after Yanukovich abandoned the capital but refused to resign.

The 450-seat parliament backed the motion by 328 votes, declaring Yanukovich unable to carry out his constitutional obligations.

It following mass defections from Yanukovich's Party of Regions. Deputies stood, applauded and sang the national anthem.

Reading the motion to the chamber, speaker Oleksander Turchynov - newly appointed from the opposition benches - said Yanukovich had "abandoned his constitutional responsibilities, which threatens the functioning of the state, the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine".

Citing the risk of "mass violations" of the rights of the people, lawmakers endorsed the motion declaring the president had "unconstitutionally given up his responsibilities and is unable to carry out his duties."

They set a presidential election for May 25, bringing the vote forward from March 2015.

President slams coup d'etat

President Viktor Yanukovich denounced on Saturday what he described as a "coup d'etat" by gangsters who were terrorising Ukraine and said he would not flee the country or let it be torn apart.

In an interview with Ukrainian television station UBR, the president looked exhausted but appeared to have suffered no injuries after an incident in which he said his car had come under fire.

"The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d'etat," said Yanukovich, who stood in a dark suit and blue tie.

"We are witnessing the return of the Nazis, the time when in 19030s the Nazis came to power in Germany and Austria. It is the same now ... I will do all I can to protect the country from splitting and to prevent bloodshed."

A day after signing an agreement with the opposition on resolving weeks of crisis, he has lost control of his presidential headquarters and the Interior Ministry which controls the police has turned against him.

"I will now travel in the southeast of the country. I will continue to meet people," he said. "I will stay on the territory of Ukraine. I will call on all international observers and mediators to stop the gangsters."

Refusing to recognise the legitimacy of laws and resolutions approved by parliament on Saturday, after the speaker loyal to him quit citing ill health, Yanukovich said: "I will sign nothing with gangsters who are terrorising the whole country."

He said his car had been shot at but did now say where or when.

"I am not afraid. I feel sorrow for my country," he told UBR.

Protesters in control of Kiev

Protesters seized the Kiev office of President Viktor Yanukovich on Saturday and his whereabouts were a mystery, as the pro-Russian leader's grip on power rapidly eroded following bloodshed in the Ukrainian capital.

At the president's headquarters, Ostap Kryvdyk, who described himself as a protest commander, said some protesters had entered the offices but there was no looting. "We will guard the building until the next president comes," he told Reuters. "Yanukovich will never be back."

The grounds of the president's residence outside Kiev were also being guarded by "self-defence" militia of anti-government protesters. Hundreds of people entered the grounds, although not the building itself.

A senior security source said the president was still in Ukraine but was unable to say whether he was in Kiev. An ally was quoted as saying he was in an eastern city.

Yanukovich, who enraged much of the population by turning away from the European Union to build closer ties with Russia three months ago, made sweeping concessions in a deal brokered by European diplomats on Friday after days of violence that killed 77 people, with central Kiev resembling a war zone.

But the deal, which called for early elections by the end of the year, was not enough to satisfy demonstrators, who want Yanukovich out immediately, following bloodshed in which his police snipers were shooting from rooftops.

Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko freed

Parliament has quickly acted to implement the deal, voting to restore a constitution that curbs the president's powers and to change the legal code to allow his arch-adversary, jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, to go free. On Saturday lawmakers voted to speed her release without requiring the president's signature.

The speaker of parliament, a Yanukovich loyalist, resigned on Saturday and parliament elected Oleksander Turchynov, a close ally of Tymoshenko, as his replacement.

Events were moving at a rapid pace that could see a decisive shift in the future of a country of 46 million people away from Moscow's orbit and closer to the West, although Ukraine is near bankruptcy and depends on promised Russian aid to pay its bills.

"Today he (Yanukovich) left the capital," opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko, a retired world heavyweight boxing champion, told an emergency session of parliament debating an opposition motion calling on the president to resign.

"Millions of Ukrainians see only one choice - early presidential and parliamentary elections." Klitschko then tweeted that an election should be held no later than May 25.

The senior security source said of Yanukovich: "Everything's ok with him ... He is in Ukraine." Asked whether the leader was in Kiev, the source replied: "I cannot say."

President may be in support base

The UNIAN news agency cited Anna Herman, a lawmaker close to Yanukovich, as saying the president was in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, in a mainly Russian-speaking province.

Two protesters in helmets stood at the entrance to the president's Kiev office. Asked where the state security guards were, one, who gave his name as Mykola Voloshin, said: "I'm the guard now."

Dmytro Pylipets, 32, a doctor from Kharkiv in military fatigues and helmet, said: "I think Yanukovich is frightened and panicking. I feel we are almost there. The Maidan revolution is almost done."

In a sign of the quick transformation, the interior ministry responsible for the police appeared to swing behind the protests. It said it served "exclusively the Ukrainian people and fully shares their strong desire for speedy change".

Parliament voted on Friday to dismiss Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, a Yanukovich loyalist blamed by the opposition for the bloodshed.

The ministry urged citizens to unite "in the creation of a truly independent, democratic and just European country".

Yanukovich's broad concessions on Friday ended to 48 hours of violence that had turned the centre of Kiev into an inferno of blazing barricades. Without enough loyal police to restore order, the authorities had resorted to placing snipers on rooftops who shot demonstrators in the head and neck.

The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland negotiated the concessions from Yanukovich, in what the Kremlin's envoy acknowledged as superior diplomacy.

"The EU representatives were in their own way trying to be useful, they started the talks," said Russian envoy Vladimir Lukin. "We joined the talks later, which wasn't very right. One should have agreed on the format of the talks right from the start," Lukin was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

Yanukovich, 63, a burly former Soviet regional transport official with two convictions for assault, did not smile during a signing ceremony at the presidential headquarters on Friday.

"You'll all be dead!"

It took hard lobbying to persuade the opposition to accept the deal, and crowds in the streets made clear they were not satisfied with an arrangement that would leave Yanukovich in power. Video filmed outside a meeting room during Friday's talks showed Polish Foreign Minister Vladislaw Sikorski pleading with opposition delegates: "If you don't support this, you'll have martial law, you'll have the army, you'll all be dead."

Anti-government protesters remained encamped in Independence Square, known as the Maidan or "Euro-Maidan", through the night. They held aloft coffins of slain comrades and denounced opposition leaders for shaking Yanukovich's hand.

The week's violence was by far the worst to hit Ukraine since it emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union.

With borders drawn up by Bolshevik commissars, Ukraine has faced an identity crisis since independence. It fuses territory that has been integral to Russia since the Middle Ages with provinces that were parts of Poland and Austria until they were forcibly annexed by the Soviets in the 20th century.

In the country's east, most people speak Russian. In the west, most speak Ukrainian and many despise Moscow. Successive governments have sought closer relations with the European Union but have been unable to wean their heavy Soviet-era industry off dependence on cheap Russian gas.

The past week brought the country to the verge of splitting, with central authority vanishing altogether in the west, where anti-Russian demonstrators seized government buildings and police fled. Deaths in the capital cost Yanukovich support of wealthy industrialists who previously backed him.

Yanukovich's fall would be a setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had made tying Ukraine into a Moscow-led Eurasian Union a cornerstone of his efforts to reunite as much as possible of the former Soviet Union. Putin had offered Yanukovich $15 billion in aid after Yanukovich spurned an EU trade pact in November for closer ties with Moscow.

Moscow has maintained that the protesters were terrorists and coup plotters, denounced the West for supporting them and encouraged Yanukovich to crush them.

"This is not democracy, this is anarchy and chaos. And we'll see what comes out of it," Alexei Pushkov, head of Russia's State Duma foreign affairs committee and a member of Putin's United Russia party said after the deal was signed, though he said the pact would be positive if it ended violence.

Washington, which shares Europe's aim of luring Ukraine towards the West, took a back seat in the final phase of negotiations, its absence noteworthy after a senior U.S. official was recorded using an expletive to disparage EU diplomacy on an unsecured telephone line last month.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to Putin by phone. The White House said they agreed to help ensure the deal works.

The outlook for Ukraine's economy is dire and Russia has not made clear whether it will still pay the promised $15 billion in aid. Ukraine cancelled a planned issue of Eurobonds worth $2 billion on Thursday. Kiev had hoped Russia would buy the bonds.

Last Mod: 23 Şubat 2014, 13:01
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