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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Political Battle Heats Up in Kiev

APSupporters of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko greeting her during a rally in central Kiev on Saturday.
KIEV -- More than 70,000 Ukrainians rallied in the center of Kiev to press President Viktor Yushchenko to dissolve parliament and call new elections, deepening a feud between the president and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Demonstrators at Saturday's rally were unhappy with attempts by Yanukovych to expand his power base in parliament by siphoning away lawmakers from pro-Yushchenko factions -- a move that has significantly strengthened Yanukovych's control over the country.

Earlier Saturday, Yushchenko, who did not attend the evening rally, accused Yanukovych of breaking promises he had made in a power-sharing agreement and of trying to amass more power by poaching lawmakers from the blocs that support the president. Yushchenko has expressed concerns that Yanukovych could strengthen his parliamentary majority to 300 seats in the 450-seat parliament, enough to override presidential vetoes and amend the constitution.

Yushchenko threatened to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada, or Supreme Council, if the situation did not change.

"If the work of the majority is not renewed on the basis of the constitution, I will sign the decree to dissolve the parliament," Yushchenko told a conference of his party's delegates Saturday morning, prompting wild cheers and applause.

Seeking to push him to go ahead with the threat, his political backers called supporters out onto Kiev's Independence Square, which was the epicenter of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that ushered Yushchenko into power.

About 70,000 people turned out, waving flags and banners. The demonstrators accused Yanukovych of trying to revise the results of last year's parliamentary election.

"It is not the right of the president [to dissolve the parliament], it is his obligation," opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko told demonstrators. The crowd shouted, "Together we will win."

Meanwhile, a smaller crowd of about 20,000 Yanukovych supporters held a rival rally nearby.

Dissolving parliament could plunge Ukraine into a new political crisis, particularly if Yanukovych's coalition, which denies Yushchenko's allegations and argues that there is no constitutional basis for dissolving the parliament, refuses to abide by the president's decision.

If Yushchenko backs down, he could find himself politically weakened and isolated; on Saturday, his party passed a resolution appealing to the president to dissolve the parliament.

n Pope Benedict on Friday received an official invitation to visit Ukraine, which his late predecessor John Paul visited in 2001, Reuters reported.

The pope asked Kiev's new ambassador to the Holy See to thank President Viktor Yushchenko for his "warm invitation to visit your beautiful country, which reminds me of the pastoral visit made by my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in 2001." The pope did not indicate if he would accept the invitation.