Ukraine was engulfed in political turmoil yesterday after parliament vowed to defy President Viktor Yushchenko's order to dissolve the legislature and hold snap elections, the same day that Yushchenko's decree to dissolve the parliament came into force.
The decree puts him in direct confrontation with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.
Thousands of Yanukovych's supporters streamed into the Ukrainian capital yesterday to protest Yushchenko's order to dissolve parliament. The decree, published in the official gazette, also set a parliamentary election for May 27.
The decision has created the most serious political crisis since the 2004 Orange Revolution.
Yanukovych's supporters expanded a tent camp outside the parliament, while Yushchenko's followers announced plans to set up a stage in Independence Square -- echoes of the mass protests more than two years ago that helped to propel the pro-Western Yushchenko to the presidency.
Ukrainian news media reported that buses and trains were bringing thousands more Yanukovych supporters to Kiev from his power base in the country's Russian-speaking east. Much of Yushchenko's political support comes from the Ukrainian-speaking west.
The tough stances adopted by both sides have raised tensions in the former Soviet republic.
Lawmakers from Yanukovich's coalition in parliament have written to the Constitutional Court asking it to rule on whether Yushchenko was acting legally by dissolving parliament, Interfax news agency reported yesterday.
Parliament will continue sitting until the election. Meanwhile, lawmakers from the parliamentary majority voted overnight to dissolve the Central Electoral Commission and block election funding in a bid to prevent polls from being held next month.
At a stormy Cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Anatoly Grytsenko, one of Yushchenko's two supporters in the government, backed the president and said the Ukrainian army would follow his orders.
The rest of the Cabinet voted overwhelmingly to support parliament's defiance and Yanukovych asked the president to retract his order for the sake of stability.
Yanukovych was due to address the nation late yesterday, news reports said.
Yushchenko said on live television late on Monday it was his duty to dissolve parliament because it had violated the Constitution.
"My actions were prompted by a crucial need to preserve the the state, its sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.
The president, who advocates future EU and NATO membership, said Ukraine's affairs were "under control."
Yushchenko beat Yanukovich in the re-run of the rigged 2004 election that triggered the "Orange Revolution" protests. His powers have been cut since by constitutional change and his popularity has sunk after liberals accused him of indecision.
Opinion polls suggested that parliament would once again be split between Yanukovich's supporters and his opponents.
The majority coalition in the 450-seat legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, would continue meeting in the parliament hall until the Constitutional Court rules on the validity of Yushchenko's order, Yanukovych said yesterday.
The president and the prime minister were to hold discussions on the crisis yesterday afternoon, but the prospect of either one climbing down appeared small.
``We're really at an impasse because both sides have gone beyond the point of no return,'' independent political analyst Ivan Lozowy said. ``The nature of both is that a compromise is almost excluded.''
Both the US State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry urged the sides to maintain calm. Yushchenko was to meet yesterday with the ambassadors of the G8 countries, a demonstration of the significance that the West and Russia place on stability in the country.
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