- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — The party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko says that she has been released after 2½ years in prison.

Party spokeswoman Olha Lappo says Tymoshenko is heading from the prison in the eastern city of Kharkiv to the capital to join protesters there.


PHOTOS: Ukraine protesters take Kiev; president says coup


Her release Saturday was made possible by a European-brokered peace deal between her arch-rival, President Viktor Yanukovych, and the opposition.

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Protesters took control of Ukraine’s capital Saturday, seizing the president’s office as parliament voted to remove him and hold new elections. President Viktor Yanukovych described the events as a coup and insisted he would not step down.

After a tumultuous week that left scores dead and Ukraine’s political destiny in flux, fears mounted that the country could split in two. Parliament called early elections for May 25, but the president said he would not recognize any of the lawmakers’ decisions as valid.

Yanukovych left Kiev for his support base in the country’s Russian-speaking east, where lawmakers questioned the legitimacy of the newly empowered parliament and called for volunteer militias to uphold order.

“They are trying to scare me. I have no intention to leave the country. I am not going to resign, I’m the legitimately elected president,” Yanukovych said in a televised statement, clearly shaken and with long pauses in his speaking.

“Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d’etat,” he said. “I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed.”

The country’s western regions, angered by corruption in Yanukovych’s government, want to be closer to the European Union and have rejected Yanukovych’s authority in many cities. Eastern Ukraine, which accounts for the bulk of the nation’s economic output, favors closer ties with Russia and has largely supported the president. The three-month protest movement was prompted by the president’s decision to abort an agreement with the EU in favor of a deal with Moscow.

“A dictator has been overthrown,” said protester Anatoly Sumchinsky, among thousands gathered on Kiev’s Independence Square cheering a huge screen broadcasting a parliamentary debate. “We stood for our right to live in a different Ukraine. It’s a victory.”

Saturday’s developments were the result of a European-brokered peace deal between the president and opposition.

But Yanukovych said Saturday that he would not sign any of the measures passed by parliament over the past two days as a result of that deal. They include motions:

-saying that the president removed himself from power.

-setting new elections for May 25 instead of next year.

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