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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Conflict in Kiev Spills Into the Streets

APYushchenko supporters shouting as two competing rallies take place Wednesday near the president's office in Kiev.
KIEV -- Thousands of supporters of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych marched Wednesday to the office of his rival, President Viktor Yushchenko, to protest the president's order to dissolve the parliament and hold early elections.

Yanukovych refused to recognize the order that Yushchenko had issued Monday and said he would wait for a decision by the Constitutional Court.

The standoff between the bitter rivals bore echoes of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that broke out after Yanukovych was declared the winner in a fraud-tainted presidential election and Yushchenko won the court-ordered rerun.

The Orange Revolution brought out tens of thousands of Yushchenko supporters for around-the-clock protests, but in the current crisis it is Yanukovych's partisans who have seized the initiative on the streets, setting up a tent camp, erecting a stage on the city's main square and marching to the president's office.

Yushchenko's backers are keeping a comparatively low profile, apparently to avoid the possibility of clashes, but perhaps also reflecting widespread disappointment in Yushchenko's failure to implement reforms.

No unrest has been reported in the demonstrations, but tension was being stoked amid allegations of significant pressure on the head of the Central Election Commission and the head of the Constitutional Court.

Yanukovych accused Yushchenko's office of trying to influence the 18-judge court, while Yushchenko's office countered that Yanukovych was trying to force the election chief to resign. Both sides denied the charges.

The Constitutional Court said Wednesday that its chief judge had sought to resign, but his resignation was not accepted by the other judges.

Yushchenko ordered the parliament dissolved Monday night and called new elections for May 27, creating the most serious political crisis since the Orange Revolution.

In 2004, the Supreme Court played a major role by declaring the election invalid and ordering a rerun. This time, the focus is shifting to the Constitutional Court, which has not rendered any decisions in more than eight months.

Court spokesman Ivan Avramov said the court had 15 days to render a preliminary decision on whether to accept the case.

Yanukovych has said he would only decide whether to abide by Yushchenko's order after the court ruled on its legality.

Meanwhile, Yanukovych's supporters took over Kiev's main Independence Square.

Elderly people wearing red scarves in support of Yanukovych's coalition partner, the Communists, danced, while younger supporters sat on the edge of fountains and lounged on nearby grass.

"We will be victorious because the law is on our side," said Halina Gusova, 59, a Communist supporter. "And after we win this, our next goal will be to remove the president."

Yanukovych's allies also have a tent camp near the parliament.