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BRUSSELS, February 23, 20:09 /ITAR-TASS/. The Ukrainian people should determine its future on their own, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Sunday.
“I am closely monitoring the important developments in Ukraine. The people of Ukraine must determine their own future in freedom and democracy. I continue to call for calm and restraint, so that all sides can focus on pursuing the path of democracy, stability and prosperity through peaceful dialogue and early elections,” Rasmussen said in a statement.
Ukraine has been hit by anti-government protests, which often turned violent, since November. A new wave of riots started on Tuesday and has eventually led to President Viktor Yanukovich reportedly fleeing his residence outside Kiev. The Ukrainian unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, took over and appointed an acting president. It also set early elections. Yanukovich called the developments "a coup."
“I commend the statement of the Ukrainian army that it will in no way intervene in the political crisis. It is important that this continues to be the case,” the NATO chief’s statement said.
“Ukraine is a close partner to NATO and NATO is a friend of the Ukrainian people. We look forward to continue cooperation with Ukraine based on the NATO-Ukraine Charter,” it said.
The NATO-Ukraine Charter was adopted in 1997 and does not stipulate Kiev’s admission to the North Atlantic alliance.
Anti-government protests have been underway in Ukraine since the country’s authorities refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union at a Vilnius summit in November 2013, choosing closer ties with Russia instead.
A new wave of riots started in Kiev on February 18 after opposition supporters tried to march to the building of Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, in support of a constitutional reform cutting presidential powers.
According to the latest data from the Ukrainian Health Ministry, 82 people have been killed and 645 turned to the Ukrainian capital’s medical institutions for help, with 423 of them hospitalized, since the start of the latest violence on February 18.
President Yanukovich reportedly left his residence in Mezhigorye, and his current whereabouts are unknown. Some Ukrainian media reported Saturday that he was in Kharkov in eastern Ukraine, citing presidential aide Anna German.
In an interview with Ukrainian TV channel UBR, Yanukovich called the current developments in his country “a coup.” He said he would not obey any decisions of the Verkhovna Rada calling them illegal.
Meanwhile, the Rada held a plenary session on Saturday and Sunday and made a few key decisions. It appointed parliament speaker Alexander Turchinov from the Batkivshchina opposition party as acting president and set early elections for May 25. The legislature also dismissed the acting foreign, education and health ministers.
The parliament restored the 2004 Constitution that gave broader powers to parliament. A relevant law was published in the Golos Ukrainy parliamentary newspaper. The Rada also canceled the law on the fundamentals of the state language policy, which gave Russian the status of a regional language in 13 out of 27 Ukrainian regions.
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, jailed under Yanukovich, was released from prison on Saturday. A Ukrainian court had sentenced Timoshenko in 2011 to seven years in prison for abuse of power over a 2009 gas deal with Russia that the Ukrainian authorities said was unprofitable for the country.