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22 Feb, 2014 09:47

Ukrainian parliament votes to strip Yanukovich of powers as president leaves Kiev

Ukrainian parliament votes to strip Yanukovich of powers as president leaves Kiev

The Ukrainian parliament has voted to strip President Viktor Yanukovich of his powers, capitalizing on his absence in the capital. Snap elections are to be held in May. Yanukovich says a coup d’état is taking place in the country.

Chaos continues to reign in Ukraine as Viktor Yanukovich appears to have left the capital. Though there is no solid evidence on his current whereabouts, several reports point to Kharkov, a city in the country’s east. In an interview with local TV, the president said he was going to fly to Kharkov on Friday night, and that his car was shot at while he was traveling to the airport.

Ukraine’s President is in Kharkov. He went there previous night. He will be meeting his voters and appear on local TV,” Anna German, Yanukovich’s adviser, told Interfax-Ukraine on Saturday morning.

The president’s residence was left abandoned and seemingly unguarded, allowing rioters to enter and start playing improvised golf inside its premises, according to pictures on social media. The country’s parliament, Verkhovna Rada, also made a flash advance.

In an emergency session, the assembly ruled that Yanukovich had "unconstitutionally given up his responsibilities and is unable to carry out his duties."

The resolution, backed by 328 votes, ousted Yanukovich and set an early election for May 25.

However, later in the day, some MPs alleged that they never stripped Yanukovich of powers, stating that they only appointed a polling date.

We did not dismiss Viktor Yanukovich. If he stays in Ukraine over the three remaining months, he will be able to carry out his duties as the president,” Sergey Tigipko of the ruling Party of Regions, said.

Yanukovich did appear on TV on Saturday. Commenting on speculations that he has already given up powers, the leader said he would never resign. He also slammed the parliament's decisions as being “illegitimate.”

"The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup-d'etat," he said, comparing it to the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s.

I am not afraid. I feel sorrow for my country,” Yanukovich UBR channel, calling on the international community to stop the radicals from seizing power.

Kharkov itself saw a massive meeting of eastern political leaders who challenged parliament's new policy. The resolution adopted at that meeting said the Rada's actions “in such circumstances cause doubts about their...legitimacy and legality.”

"Until the constitutional order and lawfulness are restored...we have decided to take responsibility for safeguarding the constitutional order, legality, citizens' rights and their security on our territories," the document reads.

Protesters gather outside the Ukrainian Parliament building in Kiev February 22, 2014. (Reuters / Vasily Fedosenko)

Meanwhile, the Rada hopes to create a coalition government in nine days. In an uncharacteristic fit of productive law-making, the parliament sought to appoint a new prosecutor general, defense minister, and head of the Security Service. But since such assignments can only be done by the president, the MPs passed a motion to bring “commissioners” to the posts. The parliament did, however, successfully appoint a new interior minister on Friday.

The parliament also chose a new speaker, Aleksandr Turchinov, after Vladimir Rybak and First Deputy Speaker Igor Kaletnik resigned. While Rybak is closely associated with Yanukovich (the president mentioned him in his interview, saying the politician was beaten up by rioters and sent to Donetsk for treatment), Turchinov is viewed as a close ally of Yulia Tymoshenko – who was set free on Saturday and immediately proclaimed that she would run in the upcoming election.

Russia has criticized developments which took place following concessions made by the Ukrainian government.

"The opposition not only has failed to fulfill a single of its obligations but is already presenting new demands all the time, following the lead of armed extremists and thugs whose actions pose direct threat to Ukraine's sovereignty and constitutional order," Lavrov told his German, Polish, and French counterparts.

Despite the situation spiraling even more out of control each second, Yanukovich says he is firm in his intention to stay in Ukraine and fight to the end.

"I will now travel in the southeast of the country. I will continue to meet people," he said. "I will stay on the territory of Ukraine. I will call on all international observers and mediators to stop the gangsters," he added.