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PM's supporters rally in Kiev

They called for stability amid a political crisis over president's dissolution of parliament.

world Updated: Apr 09, 2007 17:42 IST

Thousands of supporters of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych rallied for a fifth day in the streets of Kiev on Saturday, calling for stability amid a political crisis over the president's dissolution of parliament.

The protesters were drawn to the streets, waving flags and chanting, when President Viktor Yushchenko issued an order on Monday to dissolve parliament and hold early elections.

The pro-Russian Yanukovych has led defiance against that order, and the two men are now locked in a bitter power struggle that has plunged the country into a political crisis.

On Saturday, the tent camp set up around the parliament after the order was issued was more crowded than on previous days, with many activists arriving for the weekend by train or car from across the country.

"I'm here to support Viktor Yanukovych. We don't need a war, we don't need NATO," an organisation that the country's pro-Western president intends to join, said Nikolai Shabashov from the city of Kerch in southern Ukraine.

"We're expecting up to 15,000 protesters," at the daily rally on Independence Square, site of the Orange Revolution mass protests of 2004 that brought Yushchenko to power, said Darya Govorun, a protest organiser.

Talks between Yushchenko and Yanukovych failed to yield a compromise and the prime minister has called for international mediation in the stand-off.

Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned Yushchenko on Friday to express his concern over the potential economic effects of the crisis and urge political forces in the ex-Soviet state to find a constitutional solution.

While Yanukovych has favoured strong bonds with Russia, Yushchenko came to power promising to build closer ties with the West and seek membership in the NATO military alliance.

The president accuses pro-Russian forces in parliament of violating the constitution and trying to lure pro-Western deputies over to their camp.

The constitutional court will meet next week to examine the legality of Yushchenko's decision to dissolve parliament.

There were signs on Saturday that this weekend's celebration of Orthodox Easter might subdue the protests, which are a fraction of the size of those seen during the Orange Revolution.

Protest organiser Govorun said many of the protesters would go to the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra, a revered medieval monastery on a hill overlooking the Dnepr River in Kiev, to celebrate the Easter holiday.

"It will be merry, we will eat Easter eggs and cakes, and drink shots of vodka," Viktor Neboga, 57, said at the rally on Friday.

Nadezhda Bychenko, 48, a pensioner and mother of three children, arrived from the city of Kirovograd in southeast Ukraine with some 150 supporters of Yanukovych's Regions party.

"I've had enough of living in an unstable country," Bychenko said.

"I'm here for justice and so that there's no war," said Tetyana Ovcherenko, who came on the train from the Kiev region, as her four-year-old granddaughter ran around giggling in the park outside parliament.

First Published: Apr 07, 2007 15:53 IST