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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Hearings Start in Ukraine

ReutersAn elderly woman shouting in support of Yanukovych at a rally outside the Constitutional Court in Kiev on Monday.
KIEV -- All 18 Constitutional Court judges showed up for the start of hearings Tuesday into President Viktor Yushchenko's decree to dissolve the parliament and call early elections, and they promised to work as fast as possible.

Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych were both out of the country, meeting separately with officials from the European Union and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to drum up support.

Earlier, five judges said they would recuse themselves, complaining of enormous pressure from Yanukovych's camp. But all 18 were present at the opening hearing.

Yushchenko sent a letter to the court complaining about purported corruption on the part of Judge Syuzanna Stanik. She denied the charges and told her fellow judges that she would not step down.

"Any pressure on the judges is a violation of the principles of democracy and the Ukrainian Constitution," Yanukovych told reporters in Strasbourg, France, before addressing the Council of Europe.

He called on Yushchenko to suspend his decree pending the court ruling.

The court has one month to consider the matter, but with elections slated for May 27, the judges have been asked to move faster. A decision requires the consent of 10 judges.

Yushchenko has defended the decree he made two weeks ago as necessary to prevent the usurpation of power by Yanukovych. Yanukovych and his majority in the 450-seat parliament have defied the order and appealed to the court to resolve the matter.

In Brussels, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called for a compromise solution after being briefed on the crisis by Yushchenko.

"Democracy, and that's the advantage of democracy compared to other regimes, gives us the flexibility to find a compromise," he told reporters, making clear that the European Union would not take sides between Yushchenko and Yanukovych.

Yushchenko vowed that he would strive to find a peaceful solution. "We have never been talking of any option involving force to resolve the situation," he said.

The Constitutional Court debate got off to a slow start with discussions over what sort of information would be considered and who could participate. Court representatives for Yushchenko and Yanukovych accused each other of trying to drag out the proceedings. "Society expects constructive work from the Constitutional Court, but if we work like this, they'll be waiting a long time," said the chief judge, Ivan Dombrovsky.

Ukraine's main opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, who supports the president's decree, called the court too tainted to make a just ruling, making it increasingly unlikely that a legal decision will be enough to end the impasse.

Outside the courthouse, several hundred demonstrators from the rival sides gathered, waving party flags. Lyudmyla Stepenenko, a 24-year-old psychologist, carried a flag of Yanukovych's coalition partner, the Socialists, and said she came to the courthouse to protest new elections, which she called a waste of money.

On the other side of the police line, Oleh Sokha, 20, a student from western Ukraine, was there to support the presidential order. "We are against the parliament which betrayed its own people," he said.

AP, Reuters