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Protesters gain ground in Ukraine


SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Protesters gain ground in Ukraine

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Protesters took control of Ukraine’s capital yesterday, seizing the president’s office as parliament voted to remove him and hold new elections.
President Viktor Yanukovych described the events as a coup and insisted he would not step down.
After a tumultuous week that left scores dead and Ukraine’s political destiny in flux, fears mounted that the country could split in two – a Europe-leaning west and a Russian-leaning east and south.
Parliament arranged the release of Yanukovych’s arch-rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was on her way to Kiev to join the protesters. She promised to run for president, and said she will “make it so that no drop of blood that was spilled will be forgotten”.
Yanukovych said he would not recognise any of the lawmakers’ decisions as valid. He left Kiev for his support base in the country’s Russian-speaking east, where lawmakers questioned the legitimacy of the newly empowered legislature and called for volunteer militias to uphold order.
“They are trying to scare me. I have no intention to leave the country. I am not going to resign; I’m the legitimately elected president,” Yanukovych said in a televised statement, clearly shaken and with long pauses in his speaking.
“Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d’etat,” he said. “I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed.”
Ukraine, a nation of 46 million, has huge strategic importance to Russia, Europe and the United States.
The country’s western regions, angered by corruption in Yanukovych’s government, want to be closer to the European Union and have rejected Yanukovych’s authority in many cities. Eastern Ukraine, which accounts for the bulk of the nation’s economic output, favours closer ties with Russia and has largely supported the president.
The three-month protest movement was prompted by the president’s decision to abort an agreement with the EU in favour of a deal with Moscow.
“The people have won, because we fought for our future,” said opposition leader Vitali Klitschko to a euphoric crowd of thousands gathered on Kiev’s Independence Square. Beneath a cold, heavy rain, protesters who have stood for weeks and months to pressure the president to leave congratulated each other and shouted “Glory to Ukraine!”
“It is only the beginning of the battle,” Klitschko said, urging calm and telling protesters not to take justice into their own hands.
 

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