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Embattled Ukraine leader slams `coup`, defies calls to resign

AFP | Last Updated: Sunday, February 23, 2014 - 00:28

Kiev: Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Saturday refused to step down and denounced a "coup" by protesters as the emboldened opposition took control of parliament and parts of Kiev in another dramatic turn in the three-month crisis.

Yanukovych`s regime appeared close to collapse as protesters took control of his offices and lawmakers voted to immediately free jailed pro-Western opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko.

But Yanukovych defiantly told a local television station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv -- a pro-Russian bedrock of support -- that he would fight tooth and nail against the "bandits" trying to oust him.

"I am not leaving the country for anywhere. I do not intend to resign. I am the legitimately elected president," the 63-year-old leader said in a firm voice.

Yanukovych said with a hint of outrage that "everything happening today can primarily be described as vandalism, banditry and a coup d`etat."

"This is not an opposition," Yanukovych scoffed. "These are bandits." Yet a sense of an emerging power vacuum gripped the charred heart of the capital a day after Yanukovych and his political rivals signed a Western-brokered peace deal to end the ex-Soviet nation`s worst crisis since independence from Moscow in 1991.

Key government buildings were left without police protection and baton-armed protesters dressed in military fatigues wandered freely across the president`s once-fortified compound.
"We have taken the perimeter of the president`s residence under our control for security reasons," Mykola Velichkovich of the opposition`s self-declared Independence Square defence unit told AFP.
Thousands of mourners meanwhile brought carnations and roses to dozens of spots across Kiev`s iconic Independence Square on which protesters were shot dead by police in a week of carnage that claimed nearly 100 lives.

First Published: Sunday, February 23, 2014 - 00:28

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