Ukraine's ex-PM Tymoshenko heading to Kiev after release

Updated: 2014-02-23 05:43


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KIEV - Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko left the out-of-prison health center in eastern Ukraine on Saturday evening after about two and a half years behind the bars, opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk said.

"Yulia (Tymoshenko) is on her way to the Maidan," Yatsenyuk, leader of Tymoshenko's Fatherland party, told reporters, referring to Kiev's Independence Square, the center of the country's mass anti-government protests.

Hours earlier, Tymoshenko ally Alexandr Turchinov was elected parliament speaker to replace Volodymyr Rybak, who resigned due to health reasons.

The 49-year-old Turchinov served as first deputy prime minister in Tymoshenko's government from 2007 to 2010.

Earlier, Ukrainian Parliament voted to dismiss President Viktor Yanukovych from his post, declaring him constitutionally unable to carry out his duties. The parliament also set early presidential election for May 25.

Conflicting reports appeared over the fate of Yanukovych following Tymoshenko's release.

Opposition lawmakers claimed Yanukovych had pledged to submit his resignation over the violence in central Kiev.

However, Yanukovych's aide, Anna German, said the president, who traveled to Kharkov city in the country's east for a meeting with regional officials, did not plan to quit.

In an interview aired on the local UBR TV station Saturday, Yanukovych described the events occurring in the country as a " coup". He dismissed rumors of his resignation and said he would not leave the country.

"I will do all I can to protect the country from splitting and to prevent bloodshed," said the president, who said his country was witnessing the return of the Nazis, as in Germany and Austria in the 1930s.

He promised to stay in Ukraine and call on all international observers and mediators to stop the "gangsters", adding he felt sorrow for Ukraine.

Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian government said the situation of the former Soviet republic of 46 million people remained manageable as the government and the parliament were functioning within the framework of the country's legislation.

"The government and the Finance Ministry are working in normal mode and ensuring the implementation of their functions and tasks, " the government press service said in a statement.

The Ukrainian parliament remained the supreme legislative body operating within its powers, the statement said.

Tymoshenko, 53, was released after the Ukrainian parliament earlier in the day approved a fast-track procedure that did not require the president's endorsement.

Tymoshenko, a key opposition leader, was convicted in October 2011 of abuse of power over a 2009 gas deal with Russia.

She was also charged with embezzling an estimated 405 million U. S. dollars and evading tax worth more than 87,000 dollars in the 1990s.

The 53-year-old opposition leader, who is now receiving medical treatment in a state hospital in Kharkov, has denied all the charges, saying they are politically motivated.

Ukrainian armed forces Chief of the General Staff Admiral Yuriy Ilyin said Saturday that the military will not get involved in the civil political conflict.