Parliament Calls Early Election After Leader Leaves Kiev

By: WIBW (Posted by Victoria Calderon)
By: WIBW (Posted by Victoria Calderon)

KIEV, Ukraine (CBS/AP) -- Ukraine's parliament has voted to call early presidential elections for May 25.

The decision comes just hours after embattled President Viktor Yanukovych said he wouldn't respect any decisions made by parliament.

"Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and bandits and a coup d'etat," Yanukovych said in a televised statement, clearly shaken and making long pauses in his speech.

Under an agreement reached Friday between Yanukovych and leaders of the opposition protests that have brought Ukraine into crisis, early elections were to be held no later than December.

But the possibility that he could remain in office for the rest of the year angered protesters who want his immediate departure.

Before the vote, CBS News correspondent Holly Williams reported from Kiev that the ministry that controls the police force said it now serves the Ukrainian people and shares their desire for speedy change.

A top aide to Yanukovych said that the president has left Kiev and gone back to Kharkiv, a city in Ukraine's east which is the heart of his support base.

After a tumultuous week that left scores dead and Ukraine's political destiny in flux, fears mounted that the country could split in two.

In his statement before the call for early elections, Yanukovych said decisions made by parliament Friday and Saturday "are all illegal" and compared the situation to the rise of Nazis in the 1930s. He said he would not sign any of the measures passed by parliament, which include trimming his powers and releasing his jailed arch-rival, ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The president said his car had been shot at, adding: "But I have no fear. I am overwhelmed by grief for our country. I feel responsibility."

The country's western regions, angered by corruption in Yanukovych's government, want to be closer to the European Union and have rejected Yanukovych's authority in many cities. Eastern Ukraine, which accounts for the bulk of the nation's economic output, favors closer ties with Russia and has largely supported the president. The three-month protest movement was prompted by the president's decision to abort an agreement with the EU in favor of a deal with Moscow.

Defense and military officials urged calm. In statements Saturday, both the Defense Ministry and the chief of the armed forces said they will not be drawn into any conflict and will side with the people. But they did not specify whether they still support the president or are siding with the opposition.

Protesters claimed full control of Kiev and took up positions around the president's office and a grandiose residential compound believed to be his, though he never acknowledged it.

"The people have risen up and achieved their goals. The authorities are crumbling. Victory is in sight," 31-year-old construction worker Sviatoslav Gordichenko said as he and thousands of other protesters surrounded the ostentatious residential compound in the Kiev suburbs.

In the eastern city of Kharkiv, governors, provincial officials and legislators gathered alongside top Russian lawmakers and approved a statement calling on regional authorities to take full responsibility for constitutional order.

Some called for the formation of volunteer militias to defend against protesters from western regions, even as they urged army units to maintain neutrality and protect ammunition depots.

The congress of provincial lawmakers and officials in Kharkiv issued a statement saying that the events in Kiev have led to the "paralysis of the central government and destabilization of the situation in the country."

Ukraine, a nation of 46 million, has long divided its loyalties and economy between Europe and longtime ruler Moscow, giving it huge strategic importance to Russia, Europe and the United States.
© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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