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Ukraine Protests Spreading; Volatile Unrest Captures World Attention

By: ap
By: ap
Freed opposition leader speaks to protesters... Protesters take over capital; president calls it a coup... Ukrainian governor, mayor flee for Russia... additional background information on the changing situation in the Ukraine...

The recently released ex-Prime Minister of the Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (YOOL'-yah tee-moh-SHEN'-koh) says the scores of anti-government protesters who were killed this week in Kiev are "heroes" and "the best thing in Ukraine!"
After the opposition icon was released Saturday from a hospital where she was incarcerated, she promised to run for president and then spoke at the protest camp in Kiev's Independence Square where she encouraged the people to keep the camp going.
Tymoshenko looked tired and spoke from a wheelchair as she addressed the euphoric crowd.
The heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution is the chief rival of President Viktor Yanukovych (yah-noo-KOH'-vich) whose rule is crumbling after protesters took control of the capital Saturday and parliament voted to remove him from power.
Yanukovych, who left Kiev for his support base in the country's Russian-speaking east, says it's a coup and insists he won't step down.
The White House is welcoming the latest developments in Ukraine and urging the swift formation of a unity government.

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Protesters have taken control of Ukraine's capital, seizing the office of President Viktor Yanukovych (yah-noo-KOH'-vich) as parliament voted to remove him and hold new elections.
Parliament also arranged the release of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (YOOL'-yah tee-moh-SHEN'-koh), a Yanukovych rival, who promised to run for president.
Yanukovych is refusing to recognize any of the lawmakers' decisions as valid. He described the events as a coup and insisted he would not step down.
He has left Kiev for his support base in the country's Russian-speaking east.
The events are raising fears that the country could split in two -- a Europe-leaning west and a Russian-leaning east and south.
Meanwhile, Russia is accusing Ukraine's opposition of failing to fulfill its side of a peace deal intended to end the nation's political crisis.
Russia's foreign minister says the opposition "keeps making new demands under the influence of armed extremists and rioters." Sergey Lavrov (SEHR'-gay LAHV'-rahf) has been calling Western leaders, including Secretary of State John Kerry, urging them to intervene.
Clashes between protesters and security forces this week have left scores dead.

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine's border guard service says that a leading governor and a mayor from the president's eastern base have fled to Russia.
A spokesman for the border guard service, Oleh Slobodyan, told The Associated Press that Kharkiv regional governor Mikhaylo Dobkin and Kharkiv Mayor Hennady Kernes left Ukraine across the nearby Russian border Saturday.
Both are top allies of President Viktor Yanukovych, whose rule appeared increasingly under question after protesters took over the capital and parliament voted to remove him.
There are fears that Ukraine might split in two, creating a Russian-leaning east and Europe-leaning west.

Ukrainian ex-premier Tymoshenko freed
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- The party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko says that she has been released after 2 1/2 years in prison.
Party spokeswoman Olha Lappo says Tymoshenko is heading from the prison in the eastern city of Kharkiv to the capital to join protesters there.
Her release Saturday was made possible by a European-brokered peace deal between her arch-rival, President Viktor Yanukovych, and the opposition.
Protesters took control of Ukraine's capital Saturday, seizing the president's office as parliament voted to remove him and hold new elections. President Viktor Yanukovych described the events as a coup and insisted he would not step down.
After a tumultuous week that left scores dead and Ukraine's political destiny in flux, fears mounted that the country could split in two. Parliament called early elections for May 25, but the president said he would not recognize any of the lawmakers' decisions as valid.
Yanukovych left Kiev for his support base in the country's Russian-speaking east, where lawmakers questioned the legitimacy of the newly empowered parliament and called for volunteer militias to uphold order.
"They are trying to scare me. I have no intention to leave the country. I am not going to resign, I'm the legitimately elected president," Yanukovych said in a televised statement, clearly shaken and with long pauses in his speaking.
"Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d'etat," he said. "I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed."
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.
"A dictator has been overthrown," said protester Anatoly Sumchinsky, among thousands gathered on Kiev's Independence Square cheering a huge screen broadcasting a parliamentary debate. "We stood for our right to live in a different Ukraine. It's a victory."
Saturday's developments were the result of a European-brokered peace deal between the president and opposition.
But Yanukovych said Saturday that he would not sign any of the measures passed by parliament over the past two days as a result of that deal. They include motions:
-saying that the president removed himself from power.
-setting new elections for May 25 instead of next year.
-trimming the president's powers.
-releasing his jailed arch-rival, ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
The decisions won with large majorities, including yes votes from some members of Yanukovych's Party of Regions, which dominated Ukraine's political scene until this week but is now swiftly losing support.
Russia came out Saturday firmly against the peace deal, saying the opposition isn't holding up its end of the agreement, which calls for protesters to surrender arms and abandon their tent camps.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday called his German, French and Polish counterparts and urged them to use their influence with the Ukrainian opposition to stop what he described as rampages by its supporters. European officials urged calm.
Ukraine's defense and military officials also called for Ukrainians to stay peaceful. 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.
The president was in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where governors, provincial officials and legislators gathered alongside top Russian lawmakers and 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."
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.
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.
At the sprawling suburban Kiev compound, protesters stood guard and blocked more radical elements among them from entering the building, fearing unrest. Moderate protesters have sought to prevent their comrades from looting or taking up the weapons that have filled Kiev in recent weeks.
The compound became an emblem of the secrecy and arrogance that defines Yanukovych's presidency, painting him as a leader who basks in splendor while his country's economy suffers and his opponents are jailed. An Associated Press journalist visiting the grounds Saturday saw manicured lawns, a pond, several luxurious houses and the big mansion itself, an elaborate confection of five stories with marble columns.
Protesters attached a Ukrainian flag to a lamppost at the compound, shouting: "Glory to Ukraine!"
At the president's office in central Kiev, a group of protesters in helmets and shields stood guard. No police were in sight.


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