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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Parliament Ousts Yanukovych

APOpposition deputies celebrating after parliament passed a no-confidence vote in the government Wednesday, bringing down Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and his Cabinet.
KIEV -- The Ukrainian parliament passed a vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Yanukovych on Wednesday in the latest sign that outgoing President Leonid Kuchma appears to have abandoned Yanukovych, his preferred successor, in a power struggle with opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

The vote triggers the automatic resignation of Yanukovych's government, which Kuchma has to accept. Kuchma, however, can allow the Cabinet to stay on for up to 60 days until a new government is formed.

The no-confidence motion squeaked through a secret vote with the support of 229 of the 420 deputies -- just three votes more than needed. A similar motion failed just minutes earlier.

"This is an important and serious victory for us, but there is still a lot to be done," Mykola Tomenko, a pro-Yushchenko deputy, told a crowd of opposition supporters on nearby Independence Square.

Yushchenko's supporters lack a parliamentary majority, with only 193 deputies in the 450-seat chamber. The vote indicates that some Kuchma loyalists might have voted for Yanukovych's ouster.

Yanukovych was officially declared the winner of the Nov. 21 runoff last week, but Yushchenko is challenging the results as fraudulent in the Supreme Court. Hundreds of thousands of his supporters have taken to the streets and blocked key government buildings.

Kuchma said Wednesday that he will accept the no-confidence vote, saying it was "parliament's reaction to increased political tension." He also said he would "act within the framework of the constitution."

But Yanukovych challenged the legality of the vote. "I will never recognize this decision. ... They approved the decision in political terms, but it is against the law, it is against the constitution," he said late Wednesday. A similar no-confidence vote brought down the government of then-Prime Minister Yushchenko in April 2001.

Kuchma earlier in the day called for an entirely new election to be held in three months as a way out of the crisis, saying a repeat of the runoff would be a "farce" and unconstitutional. "Where in the world do they have a third round of elections?" Kuchma said at a government meeting.

Yushchenko rejected Kuchma's call for an entirely new election on Wednesday night, proposing that a re-vote be held between the two candidates on Dec. 19. He said evening talks with international mediators had produced an agreement for lawyers to work out the basis for a re-vote within 24 hours.

He, Yanukovych and Kuchma met for a new round of talks mediated by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe head Jan Kubis.

Yushchenko signed a compromise agreement at the talks that obliges his supporters to lift their siege of government buildings immediately. It was not clear whether the agreement extended to massive protests in Independence Square.

Yushchenko, Yanukovych and the other participants in the talks also emphasized the need to prevent any actions that could split the country. Donetsk decided Wednesday to hold a referendum in January on gaining more autonomy.

Participants in the talks emphasized the need to avoid the use of force and said the next round of talks would be held after the Supreme Court rules on the opposition's appeal against the official vote results.

Solana and the EU have supported Yushchenko's call for a new second round. German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der on Wednesday also called for a new vote, but he did not specify whether he was referring to an entirely new election or a repeat of the runoff.

Yanukovych has been insisting that a runoff could only be repeated in two regions -- Donetsk and Luhansk -- where Yushchenko claims most of the vote-rigging took place.

But clearly sensing that he is losing ground, Yanukovych changed strategy and appealed to the Supreme Court on Wednesday to invalidate the Nov. 21 runoff, saying the Central Elections Commission had "distorted the outcome of the election during the count," the judges said. It was unclear if and when the court would hear the appeal.

Yushchenko's supporters continued to rally in central Kiev and welcomed the news of the no-confidence vote with a roar. Many arrived from the provinces last week and acknowledged that their energy is running low.

Olyona Bohomolska, 29, who came from the southern city of Kherson, said that during the past week she had gotten sick from being out in the bitter cold, though she has since recovered. Kherson protesters have turned a post office on the corner of the main Khreshchatyk thoroughfare and Besarabskaya Ploshchad into their headquarters and are eating, washing and warming up inside.

"None of us plans to leave yet, but I hope this will be resolved soon. We cannot stay here like this forever," Bohomolska said as she placed her wet boots on a radiator in a restroom where a dozen of other pairs of shoes were drying.

"I do not mind sleeping in the cold bus and not taking baths. I have seen worse conditions in my life," said Lesya Pevchik, 53, also from Kherson. "I hope it all won't be in vain."

Ukrainians across the country continued a run on banks, fearing that a financial crisis will follow the political crisis. Dozens of depositors crowded outside Kiev banks hoping to withdraw their savings. The panic has been fueled by a Central Bank order limiting depositors to $1,000.