Ukraine dissolution order comes into force: presidency

( AFP ) - The Ukrainian parliament was officially dissolved Tuesday following publication of a decree signed by President Viktor Yushchenko, the president's office said.

Legislators have vowed to defy the dissolution order, which Yushchenko's office said was published in a special edition of the president's "official bulletin".

According to the decree, new parliamentary elections are due to be held May 27.

The dissolution decree was signed Monday but only became effective once the it was published in the official newspaper.

Late Monday parliament moved to defy the dissolution decree, voting to dismiss the central electoral commission and refusing to allot funds for early elections.

Of the parliament's 450 lawmakers, 261 voted in favor of the resolution which called for "an interruption of the powers of the central electoral commission's members" during an extraordinary session broadcast live on television.

The same number of lawmakers voted for another text forbidding the allotment of funds for early elections, the Interfax news agency reported.

The parliament then called on the country's constitutional court to examine the dissolution decree and rule on its legitimacy.

Meanwhile, pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych urged Yushchenko to go back on the decree, during an overnight crisis meeting of his cabinet.

"The president has a chance to take measures not to allow Ukraine's destabilisation. First of all, he can refrain from publishing this decree (dissolving the parliament) and it will not enter into force," Yanukovych said in televised comments.

However, despite the government's decision to abide by the parliament's rulings, Defense Minister Anatoly Grytsenko -- a firm Yushchenko supporter and the last pro-Western hawk in a government formed almost entirely by the pro-Russian parliamentary coalition -- said that the army "will follow the commander-in-chief's orders."

Thousands of supporters of the governing coalition rallied in Kiev and set up a tent camp for round-the-clock protests in scenes reminiscent of the 2004 "orange revolution" that had brought Yushchenko to power.

The crisis came after months of mounting tension between Yushchenko, a strongly pro-West politician, and the coalition formed after March 2006 parliamentary elections.

Yanukovych, the head of the Regions party and Yushchenko's arch-rival in the "orange revolution," won a crushing victory in those elections.

Yushchenko accuses Yanukovych's coalition of trying to bolster its ranks by persuading members of parliament to change sides.

"This way of forming a majority in parliament is not constitutional and makes the work of parliament illegitimate," Yushchenko told lawmakers on Monday, the president's press office said in a statement.

The pro-Moscow coalition currently controls 250 of the 450 seats in parliament, and with 50 more could change the constitution to further weaken the president.

Yushchenko's opponents, emboldened by constitutional reforms last year that curbed his powers, said the president's threat to call early elections was unconstitutional.

The stand-off reflects deep divisions in Ukraine between the Russian-speaking industrial east and the Ukrainian-speaking agricultural west.

Yushchenko has pushed hard for full integration with the West since gaining power in 2005, including membership in the NATO military alliance.

But many Ukrainians believe he has failed to live up to his promises of a better future and has needlessly antagonized Ukraine's giant neighbour Russia.

Analysts had said earlier Yushchenko was unlikely to want fresh elections now because of his low popularity and divisions with his former "orange revolution" allies.

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