The political crisis in Ukraine intensified yesterday as President Viktor Yushchenko vowed to press ahead with early elections in a fighting speech aimed at his rebellious prime minister.
In a televised Easter message late on Saturday, Yushchenko accused his opponents, led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, of trying to impose "tyranny" and "managed democracy" in Ukraine.
The president on Monday ordered the dissolution of parliament and early elections for May 27, triggering a defiant response from the pro-Russian prime minister and bringing thousands of protesters into the streets of Kiev.
"My decision is legitimate and constitutional and there will be no going back," pro-West Yushchenko said in the Easter speech, delivered from outside the Saint Sophia church in central Kiev.
Yanukovych also issued an Easter message posted on the government Web site yesterday in which he expressed confidence that the crisis "will be successfully resolved through democracy and supremacy of the law."
Tens of thousands of Yanukovych supporters have been demonstrating in the capital of this former Soviet republic over the past week and hundreds have kept up a round-the-clock vigil outside the parliament.
"We want the country to live normally," Irina Perminova, a protest organizer, said yesterday as activists celebrated Easter in their tent city with special paska cakes blessed by an Orthodox priest.
Nadya, a 19-year-old from Sumy in the north, said she had been given an Easter cake by her parents before taking the train to Kiev.
"We're happy here. We cleaned up the tents and then we broke fast," Nadya said.
Around her hung placards reading: "The Dissolution of Parliament is a Betrayal of the People!" and "We are For Stability and Peace!"
Critics have accused the president of mounting a coup by illegally canceling the results of last year's parliamentary elections, which were deemed fair by international observers.
Yushchenko in turn accuses pro-Russian forces in parliament, led by Yanukovych's Regions party, of acting against the Constitution by trying to lure pro-Western deputies over to their camp.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday voiced "great concern" to Yushchenko in a telephone conversation about the possible negative economic effects of the crisis.
Ukraine's constitutional court is to meet this week to examine the legality of Yushchenko's decision to dissolve parliament, but a final ruling could take up to a month.
Both sides say a court victory in their favor could bring criminal prosecutions for the other side.
Korrespondent, a weekly news magazine, said on Saturday that the crisis "could end with a civil confrontation or a return to authoritarianism. The third way is elections."