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Ukraine's New President Vows To Dissolve Parliament As PM, Other Key Officials Resign

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Zelenskiy Sworn In As Ukrainian President, Says He Is Dissolving Parliament
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WATCH: In his inaugural speech, Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced that he was dissolving the Verkhovna Rada and called for the dismissal of several top officials.

KYIV -- New Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has pledged to dissolve parliament as the prime minister and key members of his government announced they would resign as the country's new leader seeks fresh political support.

In remarks after taking the oath of office at the Verkhovna Rada on May 20, Zelenskiy also called for the dismissal of top security officials, including controversial Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko, Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak, and the head of the state Security Service, Vasyl Hrytsak, all seen as loyal to former President Petro Poroshenko.

Hours later, after Poltorak and Hrytsak announced they would quit, Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman announced his intention to resign on May 22 after the next government meeting.

A 41-year-old comedian and actor with no previous political experience, Zelenskiy broke with tradition by walking through a park on the way to parliament, high-fiving people, taking a selfie with supporters, and then quoting former U.S. President Ronald Reagan -- who was also an actor -- in his address.

Zelenskiy, who until now has sought laughs for a living, said that he would do everything he could to ensure "Ukrainians do not cry" and declared that he is ready to lose the job he just got if it would bring peace to the war-ravaged eastern region known as the Donbas, where Russia-backed separatists hold parts of two provinces.

Moving to consolidate power on his first day in office, Zelenskiy -- who ran without the support of a political party and has no formal backing in parliament now -- declared he would "dissolve the Verkhovna Rada."

Media reports said that he had not immediately signed a decree to disband the legislature but might do so later in the day.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy takes selfies with supporters prior to his inauguration.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy takes selfies with supporters prior to his inauguration.

The next parliamentary elections had been scheduled for October 27, but Zelenskiy did not propose a specific date for a snap vote. He said that lawmakers must dismiss the security officials and pass several key pieces of legislation, including bills to cancel lawmakers' immunity and to prosecute officials for illegal enrichment, within two months -- the maximum period of time, according to the constitution, between a published decision on the dissolution of parliament and the election of a new one.

Before that announcement, Zelenskiy said he will bring many changes and invoked Reagan to suggest that he would go straight to the people for solutions to pressing problems in the country of 44 million, which faces deep-seated corruption, economic challenges, and the conflict with Russia-backed militants that has killed some 13,000 people in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk since April 2014. The same year, Russia seized control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Zelenskiy said in his speech that "our first task is a cease-fire in the Donbas," which drew large applause. "We didn't start this war but it is up to us to end it," he said.

"We are ready for dialogue," he added, urging the handover of Ukrainian prisoners in an exchange of "all for all," as is outlined in the Minsk peace accords signed as a road map for resolving the fighting.

There has not been an exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia since 2017.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commended Zelenskiy's call for the full exchange of prisoners, RIA Novosti reported.

Zelenskiy also said that government officials should not hang his picture in their offices. Instead, he urged them, "Hang up photos of your kids -- and before you make every decision, look them in the eye."

There have been disputes over whether Zelenskiy has the authority to dissolve parliament because of the timing of his inauguration and because the governing European Ukraine coalition fell apart last week after the People's Front party announced it was quitting -- a move seen by many as a bid by his political foes to bar him from disbanding the parliament.

Opponents say the constitution gives parliament 30 days to form a new coalition and that the president cannot dissolve it during that time. Zelenskiy and his allies argue that European Ukraine, in fact, stopped being a ruling coalition after three political parties left its ranks years ago.

Initially, the coalition that was established in November 2014 consisted of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, the People's Front, Samopomich (Self-Reliance), Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), and the Radical Party. The latter three parties quit the coalition in 2015-16.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy's Inauguration In Pictures:

​Zelenskiy's opponents also point out that the constitution prohibits the president from dissolving parliament less than six months before its mandate expires. But there are differing opinions on whether that date is November 27 or later, in December, and allies of the new president contend that he is within his rights to dissolve the legislature.

Ahead in the polls from the early stages of the presidential campaign, Zelenskiy easily won the most votes in the first round on March 31 and beat Poroshenko by a large margin in the runoff on April 21.

After his victory, Zelenskiy accused lawmakers of trying to block him from dissolving parliament and holding snap elections, but lawmakers from several parties said after his inauguration that they would not challenge his call for a new vote.

"I see no reason to challenge Zelenskiy's decision," Ivan Vinnyk, a lawmaker in Poroshenko's faction, said.

Unlike his predecessors, instead of arriving at the ceremony in a heavily guarded vehicle, Zelenskiy walked to the Rada in Kyiv through an adjacent park, where thousands of people were gathered.

Flanked by several bodyguards, Zelenskiy high-fived some of the people and took a selfie with a spectator's mobile phone.

In his remarks after being sworn in, Zelenskiy said that "not just me, but all Ukrainians have just put their hands on the constitution and been sworn in."

Zelenskiy said that he is ready to grant citizenship to Ukrainians around the world who choose to come to the country and bring the "knowledge and values we need here."

In part, that promise sounded like a retort to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last month signed a decree that made it easier for people living in the portion of eastern Ukraine held by Moscow-backed militants to obtain Russian citizenship.

Putin did not congratulate Zelenskiy on his election and no Russian officials were invited to the inauguration.

This Time It's Real: Ukrainian Comic To Take Presidential Oath
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Zelenskiy returned to naming the conflict in eastern Ukraine as the a chief priority of his five-year term.

"I'm ready to do all I can so that our heroes don't die there, and if necessary I am ready to lose my post to bring peace there," Zelenskiy said, adding that peace must be reached without Ukraine losing any territories.

Zelenskiy gave his inauguration speech in Ukrainian, but delivered two short passages in Russian.

One was on the exchange of captives and in his second statement in Russian, Zelenskiy assured Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Russian-held Crimea and the separatist-held parts of Donetsk and Luhansk that he will always consider them Ukrainian citizens.

When Radical Party leader Oleh Lyashko interrupted Zelenskiy, saying that he could speak in Ukrainian as Russian-speaking Ukrainians can understand it, Zelenskiy answered by thanking him and adding, "Mr. Lyashko, you continue to divide our people."

Lavrov noted Zelenskiy's reaching out to Russian speakers.

"Today, in his inauguration speech President Zelenskiy stood against the attempts to divide the Ukrainian society on the basis of language," he said. "There are no doubts that this stance should be fully applicable to the religious sphere, including the broader context of implementing the Minsk accords."

Lavrov was referring to the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which broke from the Russian Orthodox Church after receiving a declaration of autocephaly in January. The move, which was championed by Poroshenko, angered the Kremlin and caused it to break off relations with the spiritual head of Orthodoxy in Istanbul.

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill said on May 20 that he hoped "the newly elected president will not repeat the mistakes of his predecessor and we sincerely wish him successes in uniting and reconciling the Ukrainian people."

Zelenskiy ended his remarks by saying: "All my life, I have done my best to make Ukrainians laugh, and in the next five years to come I will do what I can so that Ukrainians do not cry. Glory to Ukraine!"

Athough Hroysman, Poltorak, and Security Service chief Hrytsak all tendered their resignations, there was no such public offer from Lutsenko, who is at the center of concerns about corruption in Ukraine.

With reporting by Merhat Sharipzhan, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Current Time, Reuters, AP, and AFP
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