- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

KIEV — President Viktor Yushchenko dissolved Ukraine’s parliament and called early elections yesterday, but parliament refused to acknowledge the order and vowed to continue meeting as the country slipped further into political turmoil.

The deadlock follows months of maneuvering by Mr. Yushchenko and his rival Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, and signals the return of competing protests, tent camps and political rallies to the streets of Kiev — two years after mass protests helped propel Mr. Yushchenko to power.

After holding more than seven hours of talks with top lawmakers, Mr. Yushchenko accused Mr. Yanukovych’s parliamentary majority of seeking to expand its power base in violation of the constitution by recruiting members from pro-presidential factions.

“My actions are dictated by the strict necessity to save the state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr. Yushchenko said in a live televised address. “It is not only my right; it is my obligation.”

As Mr. Yushchenko spoke, parliament met in extraordinary session, where it voted to block money for the new election, which Mr. Yushchenko set for May 27. Parliamentary leader Oleksandr Moroz said Mr. Yushchenko had no legal basis to make such a decision, and lawmakers adopted a statement calling it baseless.

Mr. Yanukovych’s Cabinet convened later in a special session, where he appealed to Mr. Yushchenko to cancel the dissolution and go back to the negotiation table. “In this case, the state will live calmly, in a civilized way. … All other actions will cause the situation in the country to significantly deteriorate,” a tired-looking Mr. Yanukovych said. He suggested that his coalition was ready for major compromises.

Mr. Yanukovych’s party members earlier said they were likely to pursue an appeal to the Constitutional Court, which played a key role in the bitter 2004 presidential race between Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Yanukovych.

Mr. Yushchenko insisted that “the political situation in the state is under control and stable.”

“I am calling on the Ukrainian people to make a fair, conscious and responsible choice, which will end this stage of political conflict and will open a new stage for Ukraine,” he said.

The U.S. government said it was closely monitoring Ukraine’s political situation and pushing for a peaceful resolution.

“The United States calls on all Ukrainian political leaders to take full responsibility for their supporters’ actions and to maintain calm,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The stakes are high for the nation of 47 million, which had counted the last parliamentary elections as its freest and fairest but later had politicians resort to back-stabbing maneuvers during coalition talks.

Anna Skarpenka, a 45-year-old teacher, said she supported the president’s decision, arguing that Mr. Yanukovych’s party had given him no choice. They “backed the president into a corner, and in this situation he could only act radically,” she said.

Mr. Yanukovych’s backers had set up a tent camp near parliament to pressure the president. Several hundred supporters milled around the area, laying out sleeping bags and setting up cooking facilities.

It was not clear how much parliament’s makeup would change if new elections are held. Polls suggest that Mr. Yanukovych’s party and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc would run almost head to head, with Mr. Yushchenko’s party a distant third.

The standoff between Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Yanukovych arose after 11 lawmakers allied with the president defected to Mr. Yanukovych’s coalition last month, in violation of the constitution, which says the coalition can be expanded only by the addition of entire factions, not individual lawmakers.

Mr. Yanukovych became prime minister in August after his party won the most votes in parliamentary elections, capitalizing on divisions within Mr. Yushchenko’s team and widespread disappointment in the slow pace of reforms. Mr. Yushchenko reluctantly agreed to accept Mr. Yanukovych as prime minister but has since accused him of attempting to sideline the president.

Mr. Yushchenko came to power after hundreds of thousands flooded Kiev’s Independence Square in 2004 to protest Mr. Yanukovych’s fraud-marred election victory. The Supreme Court called new elections, which Mr. Yushchenko won.

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