Political turmoil raged on in Ukraine yesterday as President Viktor Yushchenko pressed ahead with plans to dissolve parliament and hold early elections while his opponents took to the streets in protest.
Hundreds of anti-Yushchenko activists camped out overnight in the center of the Ukrainian capital and protest organizers said several thousand more would gather for a rally on Independence Square.
"Yushchenko's got to revoke his order ... He's not the president of a nation any more, he's the president of a minority," said Yury, a 52-year-old protester who arrived from the eastern province of Kharkov in the night.
The parliament and government of Ukraine have voted to defy Yushchenko's order to dissolve parliament and hold snap elections, issued on Monday amid a months-long power struggle with his prime minister Viktor Yanukovych.
Yushchenko hit back at his critics on yesterday in an article in the Financial Times, saying the political crisis needed a "firm and immediate response" and accusing the parliamentary majority of abusing the constitution.
Crisis talks between Yushchenko and Yanukovych on Tuesday failed to yield a compromise and the president's office later said Yushchenko was standing by his ruling and preparing for the elections.
Yanukovych, who favors ties with Russia, said on Tuesday that pro-Western Yushchenko had made "a fatal mistake" and threatened him with early presidential elections unless he rescinded the ruling.
Yushchenko and Yanukovych faced off as presidential candidates in 2004 -- a duel won by Yushchenko after the mass protests of the Orange Revolution against Yanukovych's rigged election victory.
The current stand-off between Yanukovych and Yushchenko has been sharpened by constitutional reforms last year that strengthened parliament at the expense of the presidency.
Analysts said Yushchenko issued his dissolution order in order to prevent the Yanukovych's parliamentary coalition from building up a constitutional majority that could further weaken his powers.
The political turmoil in this former Soviet republic prompted expressions of concern from the EU, Russia and the US -- with all three calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his Estonian counterpart Toomas Hendrik Ilves meanwhile voiced support for pro-Western political forces in Ukraine after talks in Warsaw.
Although favouring Yanukovych this time and on a smaller scale, the protests in Kiev this week were reminiscent of the Orange Revolution, which distanced Kiev from Moscow for the first time in the post-Soviet era.
Yushchenko's rise and his ambitions for NATO membership raised anxieties in Russia that Western capitals would hold sway over a traditional ally in Moscow's former empire.
The stand-off between Yushchenko and Yanukovych also reflects deep divisions between Ukraine's predominantly Russian-speaking industrial east and the Ukrainian-speaking west.
"We Will Defend the Unity of Ukraine!" and "No to the Division of Ukraine!" read some of the placards posted up by activists opposing Yushchenko at their tent camp outside the parliament building in Kiev.
But many Ukrainians also talked of weariness after months of political crisis following the parliamentary elections last year that brought Yanukovych to the prime minister's post.
"Elections and more elections. That's enough! People should do some work around here instead of protesting all the time," said Ilya Ledovskvoi, a 29-year-old Kiev taxi driver.
Ledovskvoi, who said he had voted for Yushchenko, echoed growing disenchantment with the president, seen as failing to live up to economic promises and needlessly antagonizing Ukraine's giant neighbor Russia.