Ukraine parliament votes to remove president

10:56 AM, Feb 22, 2014   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: Kiev explodes in violence
Anti-government protesters clash with the police during their storming of the Independence Square in Kiev on February 18, 2014. (GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's parliament voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovych on Saturday, even as the embattled leader remained defiant, calling the country's political crisis a "coup" and saying he has no intention of resigning or leaving the country.

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"What we see today is a coup - I did everything to prevent the bloodshed," he said in a televised statement, denying rumors of his resignation. "We adopted two amnesty laws. We did everything to stabilize the political situation. But it happened the way it happened."


"I'm doing everything to prevent bloodshed now of the people who are close to me," he added.

In the vote, parliament also moved to have early elections held May 25. In the deal brokered Friday, early elections were set for December.

Lawmakers said the move to impeach was necessary. "Yanukovych is not capable of fulfilling his presidential duties," said opposition lawmaker, Oleh Lyashko. Lawmakers will also consider banning the president from running in upcoming elections.

Meanwhile on Saturday, the opposition took control of the presidential palace on the outskirts of Ukraine's capital as the president flew to his base in the east and scores of his top party leaders resigned Saturday, a day after a deal intending to stop the violence was reached.

Units from the western city of Lvov, a stronghold of the opposition, took over the palace after making their way to the capital in spite of halted train service. At the same time, protesters took over key sections of Kiev, including the entire government district of the capital. Some protesters have been reportedly stopping cars in search of government officials.

The head of the president's Party of Regions, Volodymyt Rybak - an ally of the president - announced his resignation. Yanukovych said that decision followed an attack on Rybak. The deputy head of parliament, Igor Kaletnik, also resigned.

Meanwhile, parliament moved to take over government power and held a session to appoint new ministers while lawmakers from the Party of Regions continued to resign. Parliament also began debating whether to create legislation forcing out the president and appointed opposition leader Oleksander Turchynov as speaker.

"I think there is panic and they are not sure how to proceed next," said Vitaly Chernetsky, president of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies in Cambridge, Mass. "There have been a number of members of the ruling party's coalition in the parliament who have left factions of the ruling party. There is now fractions and tensions, and it is still hard to predict which ways things are going unfortunately because of the severity of the crisis and the bloodshed.

"But Yanuchovych has horrified people strongly enough that even the more hard-line representatives of the ruling regime are now reconsidering their actions."

The Party of Regions initiated a meeting Saturday of deputies of all levels (city councils, regional councils) of the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where Yanukovych flew to.

Protesters say they believe the party intends to initiate a split of Ukraine. In spite of a deal reached Friday that granted a number of concessions to the opposition including early elections, many protesters vowed to press on until Yanukovych steps down.

"People absolutely will stand till Yanukovych leaves his position," said 18-year-old protester Anna Sydor. "He is the one responsible for what happened. After all the deaths, I can't see how people could bear him sitting in the president's chair. It's not possible."

"They thought that people would flee the square after they shot at us," she added. "And - surprise - we didn't. Instead, even more people are coming, and they are angry."

Opposition leaders, who were booed and heckled Friday at Independence Square after agreeing to the deal brokered by France, Germany and Poland, seem to realize the street is in no mood for compromise.

"Millions of Ukrainians see only one choice - early presidential and parliamentary elections," announced opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko in a tweet.

The hard-won deal had moved elections up by one year, granted parliament greater powers over the president and agreed to a coalition government including the opposition. Lawmakers Friday also decriminalized sections of the penal code paving the way for the release of imprisoned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and granting amnesty to all protesters.

The protests broke out in November following Yanukovych's unwillingness to sign a trade deal with the European Union and instead accept financial help from Russia. The protests remained largely peaceful until January when up to five were killed. But the violence escalated earlier this week after the president's forces attacked following a broken truce that led to as many as 100 deaths.

The streets were calm Friday, but more reinforcements from opposition strongholds continued to arrive to assist protesters who say they still have work to do and remain determined that the president should leave office.

A group of 40 police officers who rebelled against the command and arrived from the west of the country stood in the square in full uniform, unarmed. They were greeted with chants "You will be heroes!" and "The police is with people!"

"We are here because we gave the oath to protect the people of Ukraine and we want to really follow the oath," said Major Oleh Kormyliuk, 35. "More officers are coming soon. Here we will be doing what we usually do - maintaining order."

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