22 Feb 2014

Ukrainian MPs vote to oust the president

Ukraine’s parliament votes to oust President Yanukovych and calls early presidential elections in May – minutes after the president declared the revolution a “coup” and refused to resign.

– President Yanukovych declares a coup, and compares situation to the Nazis taking power in 1930s Germany
– Opposition lawmakers vote to oust the president, and call elections on 25 May
Jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is released from jail
Oleksandr Turchynov, an ally of Yulia Tymoshenko, is elected as the new parliament speaker
– 77 people are dead after days of violence in Kiev

Lawmakers in Kiev dramatically voted to oust President Yanukovych on Saturday and to release the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s former prime minister.

Parliament elected Oleksander Turchynov, a close ally of Ms Tymoshenko, as the speaker, and set an early presidential election for 25 May. After the motion was passed, MPs cheered and then stood to sing the national anthem.

Ukrainian protesters watched events in parliament live on television, and gathered in front of Ukraine’s parliament to celebrate.

Opposition leader Tymoshenko, 53, waved to supporters from a car as she was driven out of the hospital in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, where she has been treated for a bad back while serving a sentence since 2011.

She later told a crowd of protesters gathered at Independence Square, telling them they would be “heroes for centuries, ” adding: “you have no right to leave the Maidan (square)… Don’t stop yet.”

The president denounced the revolution as a “coup d’etat” during a televised statement just an hour before the MPs vote. Speaking from Kharviv, in eastern Ukraine, he said compared the revolution to the Nazis rise to power in the 1930s.

“I’m doing everything to prevent the bloodshed of the people who are close to me. I’m always threatened with ultimatums,” he said. “I’m not going to leave the country. I’m not going to resign. I’m a legitimately elected president. I’ve been given guarantees by all the international mediators with whom I worked, they have given security guarantees.”

Hours after a deal was brokered between Ukraine’s President Yanukovych and the opposition parties on Friday, there appeared to be a power vacuum in the capital, with the opposition moving in to fill the gap.

The previously heavy police presence on the streets had disappeared by Saturday morning, and protesters stood guard at government buildings and the Kiev office of President Viktor Yanukovich, with the president nowhere to be seen. The embattled president had left Kiev for his support base in the country’s Russian-speaking east.

Protesters also took up positions around the president’s grandiose residential compound. Crowds flocked to see what was behind the gilded gates after he fled, and were shocked to discover a several houses, a manicured lawn, marbled columns and a private zoo, complete with ostriches, gnus and pigs.

Tymoshenko released

In a special parliament session on Saturday, lawmakers warned that the country risked being split in two between the EU-leaning western regions, and eastern Ukraine favouring closer ties with Russia.

In a fast-moving session, parliament voted to restore a constitution that curbs the president’s powers and to quicken the process to free the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ms Tymoshenko was jailed in August 2011 for seven years for abuse of powers while in office, in charges linked to a gas deal.

Her daughter Yevgenia said: “First of all, I would like to thank all the people who are standing on Maidan (Independence Square) and who have been fighting for three months for Ukraine’s freedom, for these changes that are now happening in parliament,” she told reporters. “The only thing I regret, we all regret that these changes had to be paid for with such a heavy price, with blood of people. It was not necessary, it should have not happened.”

Events moved at a rapid pace and could see a decisive shift in the future of a country of 46m people away from Moscow’s orbit and closer to the West, although Ukraine is near bankruptcy and depends on Russian aid to pay its debt.

A woman makes the sign of the cross in front of a flower covered wall in Independence Square, Kiev.

A woman makes the sign of the cross in front of a flower covered wall in Independence Square, Kiev.