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Ukraine has been hit by anti-government protests, which often turned violent, since November 2013. New riots started February 18 and eventually caused President Yanukovich to apparently flee his residence outside Kiev. Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, took over and appointed an acting president, also setting early elections.
Yanukovich called the developments state coup. His current whereabouts are unknown.
According to official data, dozens have been killed and hundreds injured in the latest wave of riots.
PARTY OF REGIONS STATEMENT
“Ukraine is now going through one of the most difficult and tragic periods in its life. The country has been deceived and robbed, but this is nothing compared to the woe that embraced tens of Ukrainian families who lost their near ones on both sides of the conflict,” the Party of Regions faction’s statement said.
“Ukraine has been betrayed and the people have been prompted to clash with each other. The entire responsibility for that rests with Viktor Yanukovich and his entourage,” the statement said.
Yanukovich is a senior member of the Party of Regions, which was the ruling one in Ukraine until recent riots that brought chaos to the country’s political landscape.
“We, the faction of the Party of Regions in the Verkhovna Rada, as well as our fellow party members, decisively condemn criminal orders that led to human losses, empty state coffers, huge debts and disgrace in the eyes of the Ukrainian people and the world,” it said.
“As a result, our country found itself on the verge of disaster, facing the threat of a split and loss of national sovereignty. Any attempts to influence the situation, to dissuade the president, were not heard,” the faction said.
The statement also said that the faction of the Party of Regions “represents the interests of more than 10 million of Ukraine’s voters and over 1 million party members.” The party consists of “normal, industrious people who like their land, their nation. These are industrialists, scientists, workers, doctors and teachers.”
“We came to parliament to serve Ukraine and its people,” the faction said, adding that differences in viewpoints should not hinder joint work for the benefit of Ukraine. “We have one common goal - a united, powerful and independent Ukraine,” it said.
“We condemn the flight and faintheartedness of Yanukovich,” the statement said. “We condemn betrayal. We condemn criminal orders that set up ordinary people, soldiers and officers. But attempts of total intimidation and lynch law, as well as destabilization in regions are unacceptable in a democratic society.”
The Party of Regions’ faction also pledged to do everything possible to protect party members from “mistakes and crimes committed by top officials.”
RECENT EVENTS IN UKRAINE
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.
The Ukrainian authorities adopted tougher laws for public order violations in mid-January, which triggered another wave of protests that sometimes turned violent, with three protesters believed to have been killed, and up to 200 police injured. The laws were later repealed.
Protesters had time until February 17 to vacate seized state and local power institutions, unblock Grushevskogo Street in downtown Kiev near Maidan (Independence Square), and other streets and squares across the country except those where peaceful protest rallies were being held. But riots and seizures of buildings continued on February 18.
A new wave of riots started in Kiev on February 18 after opposition supporters tried to march to the building of the Verkhovna Rada 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.
At plenary meetings on February 22-23 (Saturday and Sunday), the Rada appointed Alexander Turchinov from the Batkivshchina opposition party as parliament speaker, to replace Vladimir Rybak who resigned, and then appointed him as acting president. The Rada also set early presidential elections for May 25.
The legislature restored the 2004 Constitution that gave broader powers to parliament. 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.
President Yanukovich reportedly left his residence in Mezhigorye, and his current whereabouts are unknown. Some Ukrainian media, citing presidential aide Anna German, reported Saturday that Yanukovich was in Kharkov in eastern Ukraine.
In an interview with Ukrainian TV channel UBR on Saturday, 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.
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, jailed under Yanukovich's rule, was released from prison on Saturday in line with the parliament's decision. She came to Kiev and spoke to protesters who gathered on Maidan, the symbol of Ukraine’s protests. She said she would run for president in the early elections set by parliament.
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.
WHO CAN BECOME PRIME MINISTER
Meanwhile, Timoshenko’s candidacy will not be considered for the post of Ukraine’s prime minister, Sergei Sobolev, a member of the party Timoshenko leads, Batkivshchina, told journalists.
A member of the Party of Regions, Nestor Shufrich, told Itar-Tass that Arseny Yatsenyuk, who heads the Batkivshchina party’s parliamentary faction, is the likeliest candidate to head the government.
The Udar party led by former professional boxer Vitaly Klitschko and the Svoboda party led by Oleg Tyagnibok have not named their specific candidates for premier.