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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yushchenko Issues a Warning to Yanukovych

ReutersViktor Yushchenko meeting with defense and security officials on Tuesday.
KIEV -- President Viktor Yushchenko told Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday that his decision to disband the parliament was final and warned his longtime rival against resorting to force, as thousands of Yanukovych's supporters streamed into Kiev.

Yushchenko's decision created Ukraine's most serious political crisis since the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych's supporters expanded a tent camp outside the parliament, while those of Yushchenko announced plans to set up a stage on Independence Square -- echoes of the mass protests more than two years ago that helped propel Yushchenko to the presidency.

The majority coalition in the 450-seat legislature will continue meeting in the parliament hall until the Constitutional Court rules on the validity of Yushchenko's order, Yanukovych said.

Lawmakers fired the Central Elections Commission and vowed to withhold the money needed to conduct new elections, ordered by the president for May 27.

Yushchenko told Yanukovych during a 4 1/2-hour meeting that his decision to dissolve the parliament was final and warned him against resorting to force."The main issue discussed at the meeting was to ensure strict implementation of the decree on an early election," the president's press service said.

"Viktor Yushchenko, as commander in chief of Ukraine's armed forces, also stressed he would allow no use of force in the country."

Yanukovych told supporters that a solution to the dispute would come only through negotiation.

"The decree is not just a mistake. It is aimed against the country, the Ukrainian people," Yanukovych said. "The solution can be found only at the negotiating table, through compromise, not by violating the constitution."

But there appeared little chance of a compromise being found.

"We're really at an impasse because both sides have gone beyond the point of no return," said Ivan Lozowy, an independent political analyst. "The nature of both is that a compromise is almost excluded."

Yushchenko, who advocates stronger ties to the West, and the pro-Russian Yanukovych, are bitter rivals dating back to the 2004 street demonstrations. Large crowds gathered daily for weeks in central Kiev to protest Yanukovych's purported victory in a presidential election tainted by voting fraud.

Yushchenko won a court-ordered rerun of that election, but Yanukovych staged a remarkable political comeback last year when his party won the largest share in parliamentary elections.

Yanukovych put together a coalition that forced the president to name him prime minister in August.

Yushchenko accuses the prime minister of violating an agreement they signed last year setting out domestic and foreign policies. He also says Yanukovych is trying to sideline the presidency.

Gleb Garanich / Reuters
Yanukovych supporters chanting and waving flags during a rally outside the parliament building in Kiev on Tuesday.
Yanukovych supporters headed for the parliament building on Tuesday, and their rivals tried to organize counter-rallies.

There were no reports of violence, but tensions were high, aggravated by frustration over the political standoff that has afflicted the county for more than two years.

Ukrainian news media reported that buses and trains were bringing thousands more Yanukovych supporters to Kiev from his power base in the country's Russian-speaking east. Much of Yushchenko's political support comes from the Ukrainian-speaking west.

Yushchenko sought to dissolve the parliament late Monday night after seven hours of talks with Yanukovych-allied lawmakers.

Yanukovych later appealed for the president to return to negotiations, saying it was the only way to preserve order in the country.

By calling new elections, Yushchenko risks being further marginalized. Polls suggest that, if an election were held today, his party would place a distant third behind those of Yanukovych and of Yulia Tymoshenko, who was Yushchenko's first prime minister.

She was dismissed in 2005 in a falling out with the president.

Yushchenko called for new elections after 11 of his supporters in the parliament defected to Yanukovych's coalition last month.

The president says Yanukovych used illegal means to recruit them, and that they threw their support to the prime minister in violation of the constitution, which says only factions, not individual lawmakers, can change sides.

Yushchenko's decision to disband the parliament had no impact on the hryvna, which remained stable Tuesday, but it did trigger a sell-off in stocks and government bonds.

Disbanding the parliament also puts at risk Ukraine's economic recovery this year.

The main PFTS stock index fell nearly 7 percent by Tuesday's close. The stock market has been one of the world's best performers, up more than 60 percent since the start of the year.

Finance Minister Mykola Azarov said growth would slow due to political instability, though inflation remains under control.

"Inflation in March will be no higher than 0.7 percent, but economic growth in this situation will be slower," Azarov said.

Ukraine's economy has developed better than expected so far this year with growth of 8.6 percent in the first two months of the year due to a construction boom and rising consumer demand.

The government has forecast growth at 6.5 percent this year after 11.5 percent in 2006. But these targets are now in danger.

(AP, Reuters)