NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — 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.
At the president’s office in central Kiev, a group of protesters in helmets and shields stood guard. No police were in sight.
After a tumultuous week that left scores dead and Ukraine’s political destiny in flux, fears mounted that the country could split in two – a Europe-leaning west and a Russian-leaning east and south.
Outside the Ukrainian Youth Association in Manhattan, residents with ties to the country were both celebrating Yanukovych’s apparent removal and mourning the at least 100 people who have been killed in the recent violence, 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported.
Roman told Baumgarten this time of transition is critical. “My only concern now is the instability that may now be in the Ukraine and hoping that maybe the West intervenes at some point. I’d love to have the Ukraine become part of the European Union.”
Roman said Saturday’s events are a big blow for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he believes was attempting to control Ukraine.
Natalia told Baumgarten she feels Yanukovych still needs to be brought to justice despite that protesters are now in apparent control. “I’m kind of not satisfied, because the president, he’s still – he didn’t pay for what he has done to people. Because I believe it’s not right that so many people got killed.”
Mostly everyone Baumgarten spoke to in the heavily Ukrainian neighborhood around Second Avenue and East 9th Street agreed that a quick transition of government is necessary.
Parliament arranged the release of Yanukovych’s arch-rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was on her way to Kiev to join the protesters. She promised to run for president, and said she will “make it so that no drop of blood that was spilled will be forgotten.”
Yanukovych said he would not recognize any of the lawmakers’ decisions as valid. He left Kiev for his support base in the country’s Russian-speaking east, where lawmakers questioned the legitimacy of the newly empowered legislature 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.”
Ukraine, a nation of 46 million, has huge strategic importance to Russia, Europe and the United States.
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.
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;
-naming a new interior minister after firing the old one on Friday;
The decisions were passed 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.
The White House on Saturday urged Ukraine to move swiftly to form a unity government and help restore order.
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