KIEV: Ukraine’s emboldened opposition pushed on Saturday for Viktor Yanukovych to resign immediately amid reports that the embattled president had left Kiev after striking a deal to end days of bloody unrest.
The whereabouts of Yanukovych following the signing remained uncertain amid speculation that he was either visiting his base of eastern support in Kharkiv or had fled to either Russia or some other country.
An emerging power vacuum gripped the heart of the capital a day after Yanukovych and his political rivals signed a Western-brokered agreement to end the ex-Soviet nation’s worst crisis since independence from Moscow in 1991.
Key government buildings remained 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 said.
Friday’s deal called for early elections and a unity government while granting amnesty for anti-government protesters detained during three days of unrest that claimed nearly 100 lives.
It also called for the demonstrators to relinquish all public spaces by the end of the weekend, including Kiev’s iconic Independence Square, the epicentre of the unrest.
The demonstrators, however, appeared unwilling to abandon the square, which has been occupied since November, when Yanukovych ignited outrage by ditching an historic EU agreement in favour of closer ties with old master Moscow.
The anti-government protests escalated into a Cold War-style confrontation between Moscow and the West over the country’s future, with the Kremlin bent on keeping reins on its historic fiefdom and Western countries hoping to bring the economically struggling nation of 46 million into their fold.
Parliament ‘the only legitimate body
Signs of the authorities’ slipping grip on power were heightened by a bold push by parliament leaders to force Yanukovych to stand down long before a round of early presidential elections are due to be held in December.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told a boisterous parliament session that Yanukovych had already left Kiev while other lawmakers claimed to have evidence that the president had actually fled Ukraine.
“We must, as the people demand, adopt a resolution calling on Yanukovych to immediately resign,” Klitschko told deputies in Ukraine’s Verhovna Rada parliament.
“Today, parliament is the only legitimate body of power,” he stressed.
The president’s ruling Regions Party that had previously pushed Ukraine closer toward Russia was also standing in disarray on Saturday amid mass defections by lawmakers to opposition ranks.
Parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak submitted his resignation on Saturday on account of ill health. More than 40 lawmakers have already quit the Regions Party
Once in control of 208 votes in the 450-seat Rada — since the deadly unrest first erupted on Tuesday.
Lenin statues fall
Anti-Russian sentiment has in recent weeks been sweeping the parts of Ukraine that until recently had been strongly loyal to the Kremlin and wary of the cultural values espoused by EU states.
Ukrainian media reports said that protesters had since on Friday toppled statues of Lenin — the Soviet founder who for decades has symbolised Moscow’s political might — in the pro-Russian cities of Dnipropetrovsk and Potava.
Ukraine’s Liga.net website showed a video of protesters pulling the towering figure of Lenin down from its pedestal by tying several cords in a noose around its neck.
A spokeswoman for the ruling party told one Ukrainian media outlet that Yanukovych was indeed in Kharkiv. But the president’s office issued no immediate information on his whereabouts.
The president would need to sign a flurry of legislation opposition lawmakers adopted within the first hours of Friday’s peace deal.
One of the main measures amends a law that could see fiery opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko released from a seven-year jail sentence for “abuse of power” she controversially received after Yanukovych took office in 2010.
Russia refuses to sign
Friday’s peace pact was worked out after two days of intense mediation by the foreign ministers of European powers France and Germany along with Ukraine’s cultural ally Poland and a representative from Russia. Officials said US Vice President Joe Biden also placed repeated calls to both Ukrainian negotiating sides. Putin’s representative pointedly skipped the signing of the deal. Envoy Vladimir Lukin explained on his return to Moscow that it was “because several questions remain unanswered”.
“The consultations will continue,” Lukin said in comments that suggested Moscow still held out hope of somehow revising the agreement.