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Ukrainian political unrest intensifies.

By David Holley MOSCOW--The political camps that faced off against each other during Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" slipped into fresh confrontation Monday as the parliament defied a call by the country's pro-Western president for early elections. The clash between President Viktor Yushchenko and the parliamentary majority backing pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich threatened to spiral into a deeper crisis, as each side accused the other of violating the constitution. Yanukovich's ambitions for the presidency were dashed in 2004 when massive street protests against electoral fraud forced a presidential runoff to be repeated. Yanukovich lost, but he won the prime minister's post last August when he put together a coalition of parties to form a parliamentary majority. In a nationally televised address Monday evening, Yushchenko announced that he had signed a decree dissolving parliament and setting a new election for May 27. Such a decree takes legal effect when published. But parliament, which was meeting when the president made his announcement, swiftly approved a defiant statement in response, declaring that the decree was "a step towards carrying out a coup d'E[umlaut]tat, and cannot be executed." Then in late-evening action, parliament suspended the powers of the Central Election Commission and banned the government from allocating money for an early election. The prime minister then called on Yushchenko not to publish his decree and instead to continue negotiations to resolve disputes between the two sides. Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, speaking at a late-night televised rally in the central square of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, praised the president's decision. "A parliament which has become steeped in corruption and started to ... behave in an anti-Ukrainian manner has no right to a political life," she declared. She called on Yanukovich supporters "not to destabilize the situation". The current crisis was triggered when Yanukovich began enticing individual legislators from the opposition to join the ruling coalition, a move Yushchenko said was unconstitutional. Yanukovich, who said the expansion of his bloc was constitutional, appeared to be attempting to build a large enough majority to override presidential vetoes and change the constitution. Critics charged that in some cases the ruling coalition was attracting new members through bribes. In his televised speech, President Yushchenko said his move was "prompted by the acute need to defend the state, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to ensure that Ukraine's basic law, human rights and freedoms are observed." Yushchenko said that the "unconstitutional process" of adding individual lawmakers to the ruling coalition was "a cynical challenge to all of us". He also accused parliament of "adopting illegitimate and unconstitutional decisions", citing as an example a new law that expanded the prime minister's authority over the cabinet at the expense of presidential powers. The president's supporters in the 2004 "Orange Revolution", which advocated moving the country quickly toward closer ties with the West, came mainly from Western Ukraine and Kiev, the capital. Yanukovich's power base is in Eastern Ukraine. With a large number of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians who speak Russian as their first language, the region tends to look more toward Moscow. This geographical division sometimes sparks talk of a threat to the country's territorial integrity. Public opinion polls indicate that if a new election is held, the balance in the new parliament is likely to be roughly split between Yanukovich's coalition, and the bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister. If either of the two camps win a clear majority in a new election, that could bring greater stability to Ukrainian politics, and a shift toward more clearly pro-Russian or pro-Western policies. It is also possible that a challenge to the presidential decree could go to the Constitutional Court, leaving the country in deadlock until a ruling is issued. Both camps have shown the ability to mobilize thousands of supporters for street protests, raising the potential for weeks of competing demonstrations and the possibility of clashes between the two sides. nLATWP News ServiceUkrainian political unrest intensifies

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Apr 10, 2007
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