- Associated Press - Thursday, April 4, 2013

KIEV (AP) — Ukrainian lawmakers on Thursday held two competing parliamentary sessions after pro-government legislators stormed out of the official parliament hall and moved to a nearby building in response to a protest by opposition parties.

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk called the move a “coup d’etat,” branded the offsite parliamentary session unconstitutional and warned that the opposition was ready for an early parliamentary election.

The move was likely to throw Ukrainian politics into further turmoil. Parliament had been virtually paralyzed for months since the October legislative election, which gave a majority to the Party of Regions led by President Viktor Yanukovych. Opposition lawmakers have been paralyzing legislative work in protest of various government policies they consider to be undemocratic.

The president holds the power to dissolve parliament and force a new election.

The most recent protest erupted Tuesday and continued through Thursday morning. Opposition lawmakers had swarmed the podium of the Verkhovna Rada, preventing the parliament speaker from starting a session in protest of the ruling party’s refusal to call a mayoral election in Kiev. Kiev authorities have come under harsh criticism for failing to properly respond to a severe snowstorm that paralyzed the capital last week.

“It’s as if they were making decisions in their own kitchens,” Mr. Yatsenyuk said. “Any decision made outside the parliament building in an unconstitutional way is meaningless.”

But analysts said the opposition’s session held inside the official parliament hall but without the necessary quorum was also illegitimate. They predicted that the political crisis could escalate into dissolution of the Rada and fresh parliamentary elections.

“This is a split-up of parliament, which can lead to its dissolution,” said political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. “Both sides, especially their leaders, have chosen the axes of war, and they are ready to go to war.”

On Thursday, the opposition continued to occupy the podium at the parliament building, while the pro-government legislators voted to approve to routine pieces of legislation.