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Ukraine president flees capital

6:26 AM, Feb 22, 2014   |    comments
An anti-government protester walks with Ukrainian policemen who joined their side. Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
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KIEV - The opposition took control of the presidential palace on the outskirts of Ukraine's capital as the president flew to his base in the east and scores of his top party leaders resigned Saturday a day after a deal intending to stop the violence was reached.

Units from the western city of Lvov, a stronghold of the opposition, took over the palace after making their way to the capital in spite of halted train service. At the same time, protesters took over key sections of Kiev, including the entire government district of the capital.

The head of the president's Party of Regions, Volodymyt Rybak - an ally of the president - announced his resignation along with deputy head of parliament, Igor Kaletnik. Parliament moved to take over government power and held a session to appoint new ministers while lawmakers from the Party of Regions continued to resign. Parliament also began debating whether to create legislation forcing out the president and appointed opposition leader Oleksander Turchynov as speaker.

The Party of Regions initiated a meeting Saturday of deputies of all levels (city councils, regional councils) of the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where President Viktor Yanukovych is believed to have fled.

Protesters say they believe the party intends to initiate a split of Ukraine. In spite of a deal reached Friday that granted a number of concessions to the opposition including early elections, many protesters vowed to press on until Yanukovych steps down.

"People absolutely will stand till Yanukovych leaves his position," said 18-year-old protester Anna Sydor, 18. "He is the one responsible for what happened. After all the deaths, I can't see how people could bear him sitting in the president's chair. It's not possible."

"They thought that people would flee the square after they shot at us," she added. "And - surprise - we didn't. Instead, even more people are coming, and they are angry."
Opposition leaders, who were booed and heckled Friday at Independence Square after agreeing to the deal brokered by France, Germany and Poland, seem to realize the street is in no mood for compromise.

"Millions of Ukrainians see only one choice - early presidential and parliamentary elections," announced opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko in a tweet, calling for elections May 25 instead of December as agreed to in the deal.

The hard-won deal had moved elections up by one year, granted parliament greater powers over the president and agreed to a coalition government including the opposition. Lawmakers Friday also decriminalized sections of the penal code paving the way for the release of imprisoned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and granting amnesty to all protesters.

The protests broke out in November following Yanukovych's unwillingness to sign a trade deal with the European Union and instead accept financial help from Russia. The protests remained largely peaceful until January when up to five were killed. But the violence escalated earlier this week after the president's forces attacked following a broken truce that led to as many as 100 deaths.

The streets were calm Friday, but more reinforcements from opposition strongholds continued to arrive to assist protesters who say they still have work to do and remain determined that the president should leave office.

A group of 40 police officers who rebelled against the command and arrived from the west of the country stood in the square in full uniform, unarmed. They were greeted with chants "You will be heroes!" and "The police is with people!"

"We are here because we gave the oath to protect the people of Ukraine and we want to really follow the oath," said Major Oleh Kormyliuk, 35. "More officers are coming soon. Here we will be doing what we usually do - maintaining order."

(Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY)

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