Ukrainian parliament elects new speaker, president leaves Kiev

Kiev, Feb 22: Alexandr Turchinov, an ally of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was elected Ukraine’s new parliament speaker Saturday after his predecessor Volodymyr Rybak resigned due to health reasons.

Turchinov, a long-term lawmaker and a first deputy chairman of the opposition Fatherland party, won 288 of the 326 votes cast in the 450-seat parliament, Xinhua reported.

Turchinov, 49, served as the first deputy prime minister in Tymoshenko’s government from 2007 to 2010.

Earlier in the day, Rybak from the ruling Party of Regions resigned as the parliament speaker citing health reasons.

“I want to inform you that today Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Rybak tendered his resignation due to illness and treatment. He asked to be relieved from his duties as chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament),” Vice Speaker Ruslan Koshulinsky told a parliament meeting.

Rybak, 68, is known as one of the “founding fathers” of the ruling Party of Regions and a long-term ally of President Viktor Yanukovych. He was elected the parliament speaker in December 2012 for a five-year term.

First Vice Speaker Igor Kalentik also tendered his resignation, Koshulinsky said, without giving details. Kalentik, 41, is a lawmaker from the Ukrainian Communist Party.

Several parliament members from the Party of Regions quit the party Saturday in protest against the use of force against anti-government protesters earlier this week.

Meanwhile, local media reported President Viktor Yanukovych had left Kiev. Unconfirmed reports said he had gone to the eastern city of Kharkov.

According to the BBC, opposition leaders said that President Yanukovych must stand down immediately.

The report said there was no sign of security forces inside the previously heavily guarded presidential complex in Kiev, though some government employees arrived for work.

Opposition leader Vitaly Klitchko called for early presidential election in May, rather than December as was planned under a peace deal signed Friday between the president and the opposition.

The agreement, aimed at ending anti-government rallies, envisaged the reduction of presidential powers through constitutional changes, the formation of a national unity government within 10 days and an early presidential election.

The three-month rallies turned violent again Tuesday, leading to at least 77 deaths.