Ukrainian Lawmakers Oust President Yanukovych
Ukrainian members of parliament Saturday voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovych and hold early presidential elections on May 25. The vote came after police stopped guarding presidential buildings, allowing protesters to walk unchallenged into the president’s office and residential compounds, according to the BBC.
Yanukovych said it was a “coup” and vowed not to stand down. He compared the actions of the opposition to the rise to power of the Nazis in 1930s Germany and claimed MPs from his party had been “beaten, pelted with stones and intimidated”. The opposition is now in effective control of the capital Kiev, with Yanukovych in Kharkiv, near the Russian border, after travelling there late on Friday night.
The Interfax news agency reported parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov as saying Yanukovych had been stopped by border police in an attempt to flee to Russia and was now somewhere in the Donetsk region.
A pact signed on Friday by Yanukovych and opposition leaders now seems to have been overtaken by events. The deal followed several days of violence in which dozens of people died in a police crackdown on months of protest. It called for the restoration of the 2004 constitution and the formation of a national unity government. The agreement failed to end the protests overnight with huge crowds calling for Yanukovych’s resignation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the deal had been “sharply degraded by opposition forces’ inability or lack of desire” to respect it and accused “illegal extremist groups” of taking control of Kiev, Reuters reports.
The protests first erupted in late November when President Yanukovych rejected a landmark association and trade deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia. In a related development, prominent opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was yesterday also released from detention, hours after MPs authorised the move.
Tymoshenko was seen driven away in a car after leaving a hospital in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where she had been held under prison guard. MPs had voted to pave the way for her release on Friday. She was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 after being convicted of abuse of power over her actions during her tenure as prime minister. Her supporters have always maintained this was simply Yanukovych taking out his most prominent opponent, and her release has always been a key demand of the protest movement.
Tymoshenko was later hailed by thousands of opposition supporters at a rally in central Kiev after being freed from detention. She has suffered from a back injury and addressed them from her wheelchair.
“You are heroes,” she told the crowd on Independence Square, the focus of protests against Yanukovych, and broke down in tears. The speech came at the end of a dramatic day, with the president fleeing Kiev but refusing to quit.
“Until you finish this job and until we travel all the way, nobody has the right to leave,” she said. “Because nobody could do it – not other countries, nobody – could do what you have done. We’ve eliminated this cancer, this tumour.”
But while she received large cheers from many in the audience, she does not enjoy universal support among the opposition. Before she went into prison, her popularity ratings were dropping and many Ukrainians blame her in part for the chaos of the post-Orange Revolution years, or see her as a member of Ukraine’s corrupt elite.
Dozens of people walked away in disgust when she appeared on the stage, shouting that she did not represent them, the BBC’s Tim Wilcox in Independence Square reports.