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Ukraine Parliament Votes President Out


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. And events are moving very quickly in Ukraine today. The parliament there has voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from power. He fled the city but has vowed during a TV address that he would not be pushed out. Meanwhile, parliament ordered the president's archrival, the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is said to be headed to Kiev's International Square, to be released from prison. She's headed to that square. We'll talk to her supporters there.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in the square. Soraya, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: You are waiting for the former prime minister. Why was she in prison in the first place? Refresh our recollection. That was a corruption charge too, wasn't it?

NELSON: It was a corruption charge, indeed, except she claimed her innocence, though it involved a gas deal, a questionable gas deal with Russia. But the thing is, she was one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution back in 2004, which helped oust Yanukovych from power at that point. So, many also see her imprisonment as something that was a political, like, a revenge, if you will. You know, some sort of political imprisonment. And so she's actually been spending some time at a hospital near the prison in Kharkov, which is of course the base of Yanukovych's power there. And she is now in route to Maidan, as you mentioned.

SIMON: The president, or former President Yanukovych, says he doesn't recognize parliament's decision. He's refusing to resign. What do we know about his whereabouts or intentions right now?

NELSON: Well, he's - the last that we've heard is that he's in his hometown, which is not far from Kharkov, in the eastern part of the country. He says that this is - amounts to a coup d'etat, what's happened, and that he will do everything in his power to protect his allies from any bloody violence. Here in the square tonight, one of the camp leaders announced on stage that there would be a commission formed, that he would be arrested and tried. And that drew a lot of cheers.

SIMON: What's the scene like there in the Maidan? It must be at once overwhelming and confusing.

NELSON: It is just - it's a mixture of jubilation and right now mourning again, that they just walked by with another casket. There is a service going on at the moment on the stage; a priest, you know, singing hymns and a lot of people looking very, very sad. But again, it's just a mixture of jubilation. People feel very free tonight.

SIMON: And who seems to be the government at this point?

NELSON: That's a good question. The parliament has sort of taken the lead. They've been passing a slurry of bills and they're talking about appointing new ministers. They're determined not to let this dissolve into any kind of anarchy. But whether their power will be recognized by all the parties that have part in this democracy protest, if you will, over the last three months, that remains to seen because there are a lot of ultra-nationalists and others who don't necessarily agree with the actions that have taken place so far.

SIMON: Not we heard a few hours ago that elections have been set for May, I believe?

NELSON: Yeah, that is correct. That was one of the votes that parliament took after - or I should say, right before they decided that Yanukovych had resigned, and that no matter what he said - and it's May 25th, is the day for the new presidential elections.

SIMON: These are presidential elections, as distinct from parliamentary elections.

NELSON: Yes, exactly. In fact, the parliament had voted to keep itself in power. So they're not going anywhere anytime soon. The big question is what happens with constitutional reforms because they do want to get rid of corruption, which of course has been a big issue in these demonstrations the past three months.

SIMON: And very quickly, I gather Yulia Tymoshenko says that she wants to run for president. Is that correct?

NELSON: Well, that's unclear. It's unclear whether people would accept her. But they do see her having a role in government.

SIMON: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kiev. Thanks so much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.