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Freed Tymoshenko Praises Ukraine Protesters

Freed Tymoshenko Praises Ukraine Protesters
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is greeted by supporters shortly after being freed from prison in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Saturday. (AP Photo/Sergey Kozlov)

By    |   Saturday, 22 February 2014 06:11 AM

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine opposition icon and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko praised protesters who took control of the capital on Saturday, seizing the president's home and office.

She said they had cut out a "cancer" by forcing President Viktor Yanukovych to flee.
 
"You are heroes, you are the best thing in Ukraine!" said Tymoshenko, who looked tired and spoke from a wheelchair as she addressed the euphoric crowd. She spoke just hours after her release from a hospital where she was imprisoned since 2011.

Yanukovych fled the capital earlier Saturday for his support base in the country's Russian-speaking east, but said he had no intention of abandoning power.

Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who spearheaded the nation's pro-democracy 2004 Orange Revolution, had been jailed for seven years.0

The Ukrainian parliament declared Yanukovych constitutionally unable to carry out his duties and set an early election for May 25. Deputies in the assembly stood, applauded and sang the national anthem.

However, lawmakers also warned that the country risks being split in two. The country's western regions want to be closer to the EU and have rejected Yanukovych's authority in many cities, while eastern Ukraine — which accounts for the bulk of the nation's economic output — favors closer ties with Russia. 

Ukrainian lawmakers earlier had elected a close ally of Tymoshenko to the powerful post of parliament speaker. Oleksander Turchynov is a senior member of Tymoshenko's Fatherland party.

Yanukovych surfaced Saturday evening in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv where he denied on Saturday that he planned to resign. Ukraine's border police blocked Yanukovych from flying to Russia.

"I am not leaving the country for anywhere. I do not intend to resign. I am the legitimately elected president," Yanukovych told a local television station in Kharkiv.

Yanukovych said he would not sign any of the new laws passed by parliament, which included a measure to release Tymoshenko.
 
"The decisions they are taking today are illegitimate. They must hear this from me — I do not intend to sign anything," Yanukovych said.
 
Leaders of mainly Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine loyal to Yanukovych also challenged the legitimacy of the national parliament and said they were taking control of their territories. The move appeared to increase the possibility of a split in the sprawling former Soviet republic.
 
With people at the meeting chanting "Russia! Russia!", the atmosphere contrasted with the mood in the capital Kiev where protesters want the Moscow-backed Yanukovych to resign.

Russia's foreign ministry on Saturday warned that "extremists" in Ukraine posed a threat to the country's sovereignty and called the day’s events a “coup.”

"The opposition has not only failed to meet a single one of its obligations, but is also pushing new demands, submitting itself to armed extremists and looters whose actions pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and constitutional order of Ukraine," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's police issued a statement saying it stands by "the people" and wants "rapid changes," the interior ministry said. "The police is at the service of the people and completely shares its aspirations for rapid changes," the ministry said. "We pay homage to the dead," it added.

Events were moving at a rapid pace that could see a decisive shift in the future of a country of 46 million people away from Moscow's orbit and closer to the West, although Ukraine is near bankruptcy and depends on Russian aid to pay its debt.

At the president's office in the capital, Ostap Kryvdyk, who described himself as a protest commander, said some protesters had entered the offices but there was no looting.
 
"We will guard the building until the next president comes," he told Reuters news service. "Yanukovych will never be back."
 
In a sign of the quick transformation, the interior ministry responsible for the police appeared to swing behind the protests. It said it served "exclusively the Ukrainian people and fully shares their strong desire for speedy change."
 
Parliament voted on Friday to dismiss Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, a Yanukovych loyalist blamed by the opposition for the bloodshed.
 
The ministry urged citizens to unite "in the creation of a truly independent, democratic and just European country.”

Herman told The Associated Press on Saturday that the president is visiting Kharkiv, a city which is the heart of his support base.

"As much as some people want it, he has no intention to leave the country," Herman said. She said the president was to meet voters in the region and make a televised address.

The trip comes a day after Yanukovych and opposition leaders signed a European-brokered agreement aimed at resolving the months-old political crisis that has killed scores and injured hundreds. The agreement calls for early elections and constitutional reforms that reduce the president's powers.

The protesters, who are angry over corruption and want Ukraine to move toward Europe rather than Russia, claimed full control of Kiev and took up positions around the president's office and residence.

Parliament, only a day ago controlled by Yanukovych supporters, was considering whether to impeach him and set a quick date for new elections to end a three-month standoff that has turned into a national crisis over Ukraine's identity and future direction.

Despite significant concessions by Yanukovych on Friday, protesters said his offer of elections late this year aren't soon enough.

"Resign! Resign!" chanted protesters on Independence Square, the nucleus of the protest movement.

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Ukraine opposition icon and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko praised protesters who took control of the capital on Saturday, seizing the president's home and office. She said they had cut out a "cancer" by forcing President Viktor Yanukovych to...
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2014-11-22
Saturday, 22 February 2014 06:11 AM
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