Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko addresses anti-government protesters in Independence Square yesterday after she was freed and parliament voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovich.
KIEV: Ukraine’s parliament voted yesterday to remove President Viktor Yanukovich, who abandoned his Kiev office to protesters and denounced what he described as a coup after a week of fighting in the streets of the capital.
Parliament also freed his arch-nemesis, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who walked free from the hospital where she had been jailed, completing a radical transformation in the former Soviet republic of 46 million people.
The apparent toppling of the pro-Russian leader after bloodshed in Kiev that saw 77 people killed and the centre of the capital transformed into a blazing inferno, looks likely to pull Ukraine away from Moscow’s orbit and closer to Europe.
It is also a stark reversal for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dream of recreating as much as possible of the Soviet Union in a new Eurasian Union, in which Moscow had counted on Yanukovich to deliver Ukraine as a central member.
Members of the Ukrainian parliament, which decisively abandoned Yanukovich after this week’s bloodshed, stood, applauded and sang the national anthem after it declared the president constitutionally unable to carry out his duties and set an early election for May 25.
Moments later, opposition leader Tymoshenko waved to supporters from a car as she was driven out of the hospital in the northeastern city if Kharkiv, where she has been treated for a bad back while serving a seven-year sentence since 2011.
In a television interview which the station said was also conducted in Kharkiv, Yanukovich said he would not resign or leave the country, and called decisions by parliament “illegal”.
“The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d’etat,” he said, comparing it to the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in the 1930s. He said he had also come under fire. “My car was shot at. I am not afraid. I feel sorrow for my country,” he told UBR television.
Despite his defiance, the dismantling of his authority seemed all but complete, with his cabinet promising a transition to a new government, the police declaring themselves behind the protesters and his arch-rival Tymoshenko going free.
The newly-installed interior minister declared that the police now stood with demonstrators they had fought for days, when central Kiev became a war zone.
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 Yanukovich’s residence outside Kiev were also being guarded by “self-defence” militia of protesters.
“The cabinet of ministers and ministry of finance are working normally,” the cabinet said in a statement. “The current government will provide a fully responsible transfer of power under the constitution and legislation.”
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who negotiated concessions from Yanukovich with other European Union foreign ministers in a deal on Friday, said the changes were not a coup, and that the government buildings had been abandoned.
Ukrainian military and police leaders said they would not get involved in any internal conflict. The interior ministry responsible for the police said it served “exclusively the Ukrainian people and fully shares their strong desire for speedy change”.
“The organs of the Interior Ministry have crossed to the side of the protesters, the side of the people,” new Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told Ukraine’s Channel 5 TV.
Yanukovich, who enraged much of the population by turning away from the European Union to cultivate closer relations with Russia three months ago, made sweeping concessions in the deal brokered by European diplomats on Friday after days of street battles that saw police snipers gun down protesters.
But the deal, which called for early elections by the end of the year, was not enough to satisfy pro-Europe demonstrators on Independence Square, known as the Maidan, or “Euro-Maidan”, who wanted Yanukovich out immediately in the wake of the bloodletting.