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Yushchenko Firm On Plans For New Elections

Tents in Kyiv on April 7, erected for round-the-clock vigil to protest President Yushchenko's call for new elections (RFE/RL) April 8, 2007 (RFE/RL)  -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has vowed to press ahead with plans for early parliamentary elections despite protests led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych aimed at thwarting the move, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported.

Speaking today at St. Sophia church in Kyiv to mark the Easter holiday, Yushchenko described his decision to dissolve parliament and hold early polls on May 27 as "legitimate" and "constitutional."

"There will be no going back," insisted Yushchenko, who ordered the dissolution of parliament after accusing Yanukovych's pro-Russian supporters of violating the constitution and seeking to usurp power.

Yushchenko is locked in a battle for popular support with Yanukovych and the latter's governing coalition.

Yushchenko went to several churches in Kyiv for Easter services and, prior to entering one of the churches on April 7, delivered a message to Ukraine's people:

"My decision is constitutional and legitimate, I will not step back," Yushchenko said. "I guarantee that there will not be public confrontation and tension, and the law enforcement agencies are following the Ukrainian president's orders. The new elections will be free and fair."

Yushchenko ordered the legislature dissolved on April 2 and called for early elections.

Viktor Yanukovych during a visit to Brussels in March (AFP)

But Yanukovych rejected the order and urged lawmakers to continue working until the Constitutional Court rules on the legality of the presidential decree.

Yushchenko's support has dwindled in the 30 months since he and other opposition leaders successfully led the Orange Revolution that forced a second presidential election, in which Yushchenko defeated Yanukovych.

But many in Ukraine have subsequently accused Yushchenko of failing to fulfill the promises he made in late 2004.

State Of Protests

His chief political opponent then and now is Yanukovych, who is leading street protests against Yushchenko's maneuvers. Those protests have involved tens of thousands of people and include a round-the-clock vigil outside the parliament building in Kyiv.

An estimated 7,000 people turned up in Kyiv on April 7 to show their opposition to Yushchenko's decree.

Two protesters outside parliament on April 7 voiced their concerns about Yushchenko.

"We will stay here until [Yushchenko] cancels his decree," said one man at the demonstrations. "Let him cancel the decree, which is illegal. We consider that the parliament [is in power]."

"We hope that the court takes legal decisions, without any pressure," said a female protester. "The court should take legal decisions and not politically motivated ones."

News agency dpa reported today that the streets of Kyiv were devoid of crowds.

Closely Watched

During his Easter address to the nation late on April 7, Yushchenko accused Yanukovych and his supporters of trying to impose "tyranny" and "managed democracy" in the country.

Yanukovych countered in his own Easter address, posted on the government website today, that the political crisis "will be successfully resolved through democracy and supremacy of the law." The Constitutional Court's decision could take up to one month.

Russia, the European Union, and the United States are among those who have expressed concern at events in Ukraine.

Yushchenko is widely regarded in the West as being pro-Western, while Yanukovych is often portrayed as pro-Russian.

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