Ukraine parliament fires prime minister


KIEV, Ukraine - Ukraine's parliament fired Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovych and his Cabinet yesterday, bolstering opposition leader Viktor A. Yushchenko's hopes of emerging from Ukraine's political crisis as the country's president while drawing a defiant refusal from Yanukovych to step down.

The ouster of Yanukovych's government confirmed Yushchenko's clout with Ukrainian lawmakers and gave his team new momentum as it tries to convince Ukraine's Supreme Court that the Nov. 21 presidential runoff election was rigged to ensure Yanukovych's victory.

That ruling will be a decisive factor in the continuing conflict, which has brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators into the streets of Kiev, damaged Ukraine's economy and spurred talk of secession in pro-Yanukovych eastern provinces.

In another round of face-to-face talks that produced compromises on several fronts, Yushchenko and Yanukovych agreed yesterday to resolve the conflict by relying on the ruling of Ukraine's high court, which is looking into allegations made by Yushchenko that extensive election fraud tainted the vote in several pro-Yanukovych regions.

Speaking to thousands of demonstrators enduring freezing weather in Kiev's Independence Plaza, Yushchenko said he regarded getting Yanukovych to agree to that condition as a major accomplishment.

"The conflict may be solved in the next day or two," he told the crowd. "If the [Supreme Court] ruling is in line with the decisions made today, then we are one step from settlement. I have a feeling we will not have to wait much longer."

Still, the negotiations did not appear to put the country on the verge of a resolution. Yushchenko has insisted on holding a rerun of the Nov. 21 runoff election soon, while Yanukovych and outgoing President Leonid D. Kuchma have pushed for a new first round of elections. The latter would open the door for a large field of candidates and weeks of campaigning.

During the talks, Yushchenko also agreed to discontinue the tactic of calling on thousands of demonstrators to blockade key government buildings with human cordons. The blockades have drastically curtailed the work of government, Kuchma has said, particularly at the Ukrainian Cabinet building where Yanukovych's office is.

Both sides also reaffirmed their commitment opposing the use of force and agreed to avoid any decision that threatened the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Yanukovych has come under harsh criticism for his involvement in talks among leaders in eastern provinces about seeking autonomy if Yushchenko became president.

The no-confidence measure against Yanukovych and his government won the support of 229 lawmakers, three more than needed in the 450-seat parliament. The decision came just a day after Yushchenko failed to amass enough votes for the prime minister's ouster. Yushchenko-allied lawmakers said heated negotiations with the parliament's various factions and blocs Tuesday night produced the backing needed to remove the Yanukovych government from office.

In the Supreme Rada, or parliament, pro-Yushchenko lawmakers gleefully clapped and shouted once the vote was announced. Outside the building, tens of thousands of demonstrators screamed jubilantly.

For his part, Yanukovych dismissed parliament's vote as politically driven and refused to relinquish his post.

"We will never accept any pressure of force and the language of ultimatums," Yanukovych said. "We do not understand such a language. We understand only the language of truth. ... The government will continue its work."

Kuchma spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska said Kuchma indicated he would "act exclusively within the bounds of the constitution" in handling Yanukovych's dismissal.

"This was quite an important step because it demonstrates to the protesters that a victory is possible," said Rostislav Pavlenko, an analyst with the Kiev-based School for Political Analysis. "Maybe the most grave mistake of the Yanukovych camp was to underestimate the people's will to defend their right to vote."

Ukraine's Supreme Court began a third day of hearings into Yushchenko's allegations that fraud swung the balloting in favor of Yanukovych. Ukraine's Central Election Commission had declared Yanukovych the winner by a narrow margin of 871,402 votes, but the court barred the inauguration from taking place until it ruled on Yushchenko's appeal.

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