Ukraine president orders election in new stand-off

Ukraine’s pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko signed a decree on Monday to dissolve Parliament and order an election next month, stepping up months of confrontation with the assembly and prime minister. Parliament, loyal to his arch-rival Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich who is friendlier to Russia, said the decree was akin to the start of a coup and barred the government from financing the May 27 poll.

Yanukovich urged the president to withdraw the decree or face plunging Ukraine into an uncertain future.

The tough stances adopted by both sides raised tensions in the former Soviet republic two and a half years after the so-called “Orange Revolution” peaceful mass protests changed the political landscape.

In Washington, United States State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said in a statement: “The United States calls on all Ukrainian political leaders to take full responsibility for their supporters’ actions and to maintain calm.”

Yushchenko, who asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to put off talks scheduled for Tuesday in Moscow, said on live television it was his duty to dissolve Parliament as it had violated the Constitution.

“I have signed a decree today [Monday] to disband Parliament. I have taken this decision in line with the Constitution,” Yushchenko, seated at the table where he met party leaders earlier in the day, told Ukraine’s 47-million people.

“My actions were prompted by a crucial need to preserve the the state, its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The president, who advocates future European Union and Nato membership, said Ukraine’s affairs were “under control”.

He beat Yanukovich in the re-run of the rigged 2004 election that triggered the “Orange Revolution” protests.
His powers have been cut since by constitutional change and his popularity has sunk as liberals accuse him of indecision.

The May 27 poll would be barely a year after the last vote.

Parliament said the decree “bears all the signs of a step towards a coup d’état” and made clear the chamber would defy it.

Yanukovich said the president could suspend the decree or simply not publish it to allow “the country to carry on and develop in calm, civilised fashion”.

Without elaborating, he told a post-midnight Cabinet meeting shown live on television: “I will not speak aloud of a third option. That would boost tension greatly ... The president would be fully responsible for the heavy burden.”

Defence Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko, one of a tiny minority of Cabinet members allied to Yushchenko, said he and the armed forces would obey only orders from the president.

Agreement by all sides to take part in an election could produce a stalemate little different from the outcome of last year’s poll after which a coalition of “Orange” groups collapsed and Yanukovich took over as prime minister.

Some observers feared if ministers and Parliament resisted the poll, crowds both in favour and opposed to it could pour into the streets, raising the possibility of confrontations.

“Experts are discussing which law enforcement bodies are backing which side. That is dangerous logic,” analyst Oles Doniy told Ukrainian television.

“We need to think how to come out of this situation. Yes, the president overstepped his powers, but deputies in Parliament also violated the law and the Constitution.”

Yushchenko has clashed with the prime minister since appointing him in August, threatening to dissolve the assembly unless the three-party governing coalition stopped recruiting individual opposition members to its ranks.

He appointed Yanukovich after his allies failed to form a government. The prime minister’s initial 239-strong coalition in the 450-seat assembly has been boosted by defections to 260. He is seeking 300 votes to be able to overturn presidential vetoes.

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied at the weekend to back calls by opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, for the president to dissolve Parliament.

On Monday, Tymoshenko urged all sides to keep the security forces out of disputes. “I congratulate the country for moving along the path to democracy,” she said in Independence Square, focal point of the 2004 protests.

Yanukovich’s Regions Party leads in opinion polls ahead of Tymoshenko’s bloc, with the president’s Our Ukraine lying third. - Reuters 2007

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