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Ukraine: Political Standoff Continues As Parliament Keeps Working

Pro-Yushchenko demonstrators in Kyiv on April 3 (RFE/RL) KYIV, April 4, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- By the thousands, Ukrainians are gathered in Kyiv outside the Verkhovna Rada in a scene reminiscent of the Orange Revolution of 2004. Only now they're supporting Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, not his political rival, President Viktor Yushchenko.

But Yushchenko's supporters also promise to crowd into nearby Independence Square to show their support for the president in the country's biggest political crisis since the overturned election of 2004.

Yushchenko said on April 3 there's no turning back. A decree dissolving parliament and setting new elections for May 27 had just become official when it was published in the government gazette.

MORE: Coverage in Ukrainian from RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

Yushchenko signed the decree on April 2 after seven hours of fruitless talks with Yanukovych's supporters in parliament over what the president says is the prime minister's unconstitutional method of getting members of the legislature to change their political allegiances.

The two rivals met for about four hours at Yushchenko's office, but the meeting ended without a statement from either man.

Parliament Continues Working

Some in parliament kept working despite the dissolution decree. Raisa Bohatyryova, the head of the legislature's pro-Yanukovych Party of Regions faction, said on April 3 that the current parliament needs to keep working until it's replaced.

"We will continue plenary sessions because the laws and the constitution of Ukraine allow the Verkhovna Rada and in fact make it its duty to work until new elections," Bohatyryova said. "Today, we're talking about the next elections to be held in 2011."

Tensions grew as crowds grew outside the parliament. The European Union, Russia, and the United States urged Ukraine's political leaders to act strictly within the law. And they urged the demonstrators to avoid provocations and confrontations.

Peaceful Standoff

No major trouble was reported during the night of April 3-4, but law enforcement officers have been on hand constantly.

"We began the reinforcement of police units [in Kyiv] already on Friday [March 30]," Ukrainian Interior Ministry spokesman Kostyantyn Stohniy told RFE/RL. "Following the president's decision, they remain [in Kyiv] now to prevent civil unrest. They are currently in reserve in Kyiv. Some [citizens] support the president's decision; others don't. And they are talking about their intention to go to the capital. To prevent them from using illegal methods to express that, we have reinforced the protection of administrative buildings."

Yushchenko -- who espouses closer ties with the West -- said his decree disbanding parliament and setting new elections was irrevocable. And, as commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces, he said he wouldn't permit the political crisis to descend into violence.

Yanukovych -- who wants to maintain strong ties with Russia -- responded by dismissing Yushchenko's decree as a "fatal error" that targets not only Ukraine's political system, but also the people of Ukraine. He filed a formal challenge of the writ in the Constitutional Court. Until the tribunal rules, he said, the Verkhovna Rada will continue to meet.

The Dispute In A Nutshell

Yushchenko and Yanukovych faced each other in a presidential election in late 2004. Yanukovych won, but thousands of Ukrainians converged on parliament to protest what they called a rigged vote count. A new election was held, and Yushchenko won in what has come to be called the Orange Revolution.

Since then Yushchenko had to fire his first prime minister and his power has been diminished as members of his "orange" coalition switched allegiance to Yanukovych.

Eventually Yanukovych formed his own coalition of 239 members of the 450-seat parliament, and Yushchenko was forced to appoint him prime minister in August 2006.

Yanukovych continues to attract an increasing number of deputies to his coalition. If Yanukovych is able to put together a 300-seat coalition, he could override Yushchenko's vetoes.

Yushchenko says Yanukovych's method of getting deputies to switch allegiance is illegal. Under the constitution, the governing coalition can be formed only on the basis of formal factions, not individual deputies or small groups of lawmakers.

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