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State Duma Backs Lawmakers in Kiev

The State Duma sided on Friday with Ukraine's parliament in its defiance of President Viktor Yushchenko's decree dissolving the legislature and ordering new elections.

The development came as thousands of people, encouraged by organizers with fistfuls of cash and bottles of water, continued to rally over the weekend in support of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in central Kiev.

Duma deputies unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution Friday that said they backed Ukrainian lawmakers' assessments that the disbandment of the legislature violated the country's constitution. "State Duma deputies hereby express their strong objections to attempts to solve a political crisis by dissolving a legitimately elected parliament," the resolution said.

The western-leaning Yushchenko dissolved the parliament last Monday and ordered new elections in what is seen as a last-ditch attempt to reassert his authority. Pro-Russian Yanukovych, who has bolstered his power in the parliament by poaching members of the president's team, has refused to take part in the elections, prompting a standoff that is paralyzing the country.

President Vladimir Putin told Yushchenko by telephone Friday that he hoped the crisis would be resolved through "political and constitutional means," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Despite Yushchenko's decree, the parliament met Friday and approved legislation authorizing the presence of foreign troops for exercises -- an issue that prompted demonstrations in Russian-speaking eastern and southern Ukraine against a proposed exercise with NATO forces.

Lawmakers also urged Pope Benedict to stop Catholic clergy from interfering in politics by backing Yushchenko in the dispute. Several senior religious figures, including Catholic Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, issued a statement on Thursday applauding Yushchenko's order as the sole means of resolving months of political deadlock in Ukraine.

Trying to conjure up the passion of the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought Yushchenko to power, thousands of people have set up tent camps -- largely unused -- in Kiev's main Independence Square and outside the president's office.

"We are here to fight for the unity of Ukraine ... and to tell President Yushchenko that his policies do not work," Mykola Makarenko, a pensioner from Chernihiv, said on the square.

Many others on the square, however, seemed to be enjoying the day out and the free goods on offer, rather than protesting. "I haven't been to Kiev since I was a schoolgirl. We have been to the Pecherska Lavra [an ancient monastery], seen the parliament, had a look around. It's a beautiful city," said Oksana, who works at a school in Odessa.

Among those enjoying picnic lunches on the grass, a woman surreptitiously handed out 50-hryvna notes, equivalent to $10. Others lined up for bottles of water, stacked by the music conservatory on the edge of the square.

"I'll be here for five hours and then will go home," said Sasha, 18.

Would he stay all weekend? "No it's Easter, I have to be at home," he said.


(The Moscow Times 09.iv.07)

 
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