Former Ukrainian PM addresses huge crowd in Kiev

Kiev, Feb 23 (IANS/EFE) Ukrainian former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, freed Saturday from prison by parliamentary vote, arrived here Saturday and addressed a huge crowd of tens of thousands of opposition demonstrators gathered at Independence Square.

As soon as the 53-year-old politician was released from prison in the eastern city of Kharkiv, she announced that she would run in early elections scheduled for May 25.

That date was approved Saturday by parliament, which also voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from office.

In her speech to the crowd in Kiev, Tymoshenko said all those responsible for dozens of deaths this week in street battles in the capital must be punished.

“The dictatorship has fallen,” Tymoshenko told the large crowd in the square, the epicentre of deadly fighting this week pitting pro-European protesters against security forces.

Ukraine’s opposition was in full control of Kiev Saturday after the president’s departure.

“We won’t be worthy of the memory of those people who died, who paved the way, if we don’t punish each and every one of those who took their lives, who beat students and our peaceful religious,” she said.

In a surprise outcome, Tymoshenko was defeated by Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election, after which she was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of power related to a deal to buy Russian natural gas.

Yanukovych, whose current whereabouts is unknown after he left Kiev late Friday for his support base in eastern Ukraine, said in an interview with UBR television Saturday that he would not sign any of the illegal decisions approved in recent hours by parliament.

That legislative body is now controlled by the opposition due to the defection of numerous lawmakers affiliated with his Party of Regions.

Disturbances in Kiev this week left 80 people dead, according to the latest official figures, although opposition groups say that nearly 100 people were killed Thursday alone, when a truce agreed the previous night was shattered by clashes in the capital’s downtown Independence Square.

In the wake of the violence, urgent round-the-clock negotiations mediated by European foreign ministers were held that led to a deal being signed Friday by Yanukovych and the opposition.

The president agreed to call early presidential elections in a bid to put an end to the bloody street battles in Kiev.

The head of state also pledged to revert to the previous 2004 constitution, which gave the president fewer powers, and said he would start the process of forming a coalition government.

Shortly after the deal was signed, Ukraine’s parliament approved a resolution to “comply with its international commitments” and free Tymoshenko, voting to decriminalize sections of Ukraine’s criminal code under which she was imprisoned.

Ukraine’s crisis erupted at the end of November, when Yanukovych backed away from plans to ink a pact with the European Union and instead signed a $15 billion financial-aid package with Russia.

Protesters took to the streets of Kiev and began occupying administrative buildings, prompting Ukraine’s parliament, then controlled by Yanukovych’s allies, to pass a package of laws on Jan. 16 restricting freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and other basic rights.

Violent clashes pitting demonstrators and riot police broke out three days later and left six dead and hundreds wounded.

Ukrainian officials and opposition leaders began seeking a negotiated solution to the crisis in the wake of the bloodshed.

The talks led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the repeal of the controversial anti-protest laws, but opposition demonstrators have continued to demand that Yanukovych also step down.

–IANS/EFE

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