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Ukraine PM urges president to halt order on parliament

The president accuses PM and his majority in parliament of trying to usurp power.

world Updated: Apr 16, 2007 17:22 IST

Ukraine's premier urged President Viktor Yushchenko on Wednesday to halt his order to dissolve parliament and call early elections, warning of unspecified "consequences" if he refused.

Yushchenko issued the order last week, accusing Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and his majority in parliament of trying to usurp power.

Yanukovych and his allied lawmakers rejected the order as unconstitutional, and appealed to the Constitutional Court.

The court initially was expected to begin hearings on the issue on Wednesday, but announced it would postpone the hearings until next Tuesday.

Five of the 18 judges refused to attend the hearings, citing pressure from Yanukovych's camp, which it denied. Yanukovych criticised the court for the delay, and said his Cabinet would appeal to Yushchenko to halt his order dissolving parliament in connection with the postponement of the judicial hearings.

"This would be a first step toward calming society," Yanukovych told his Cabinet during a meeting broadcast live on state television.

"If (the president) doesn't do this, the consequences will be on his conscience."

The standoff has become the worst political crisis in the nation of 47 million since the 2004 Orange Revolution. Russia, Ukraine's historic partner, and the West, with whom Ukraine has been trying to build closer relations, both have appealed for calm.

On Wednesday, several thousand of Yushchenko's supporters marched to the Constitutional Court and then back down Kiev's main street to rally in support of holding new elections.

Meanwhile, Yanukovych's supporters also planned a major rally on Kiev's main Independence Square. The rallies echoed the Orange Revolution mass protests, when Yushchenko had called out hundreds of thousands of his supporters to protest against Yanukovych's fraud-marred victory in the bitter presidential race.

Ukraine's Supreme Court threw out Yanukovych's victory and ordered another poll, which Yushchenko won.

"Yanukovych is trying to steal the result of the Orange Revolution, and we must defend it," said pro-Yushchenko protester Oleksandr Olekhno, a 20-year-old student.

The protesters chanted "Honest Court! Honest Elections!" as they marched.

Yanukovych said he was worried that the political crisis was hurting Ukraine's economy, and ordered Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to do everything possible to lessen the impact.

Yanukovych also rejected a proposal by his coalition partner, the Communists, to hold a national strike in protest over the president's order.

"We must do everything possible to not allow the economic situation to destabilise," Yanukovych said.

Yushchenko said Tuesday he would not back down from the order to dissolve parliament, but said he was ready to compromise on when new elections would be held. His order called for elections on May 27.