Ukraine President Facing Defiant Parliament in Battle Over New Elections

Urkraine's government crisis deepened Wednesday when parliament passed a resolution to defy President Viktor Yushchenko’s decree to dissolve the legislature and hold early elections, warning of unspecified "consequences" if he proceeds.

Yushchenko issued the order on April 2, accusing arch-rival Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and his majority in parliament of trying to usurp power. Yanukovych, his Cabinet of Ministers, and some 260 deputies in the 450-seat legislature called the decree “unconstitutional,” and appealed to the Constitutional Court to agree.

Faced with parliament's defiance, Yushchenko reached out to the legislature, offering through a top aide to freeze his decree and push back elections. Yushchenko initially called for the vote to be held May 27, 14 months after the last parliamentary elections.

Yanukovych, meanwhile, remained defiant, telling 20,000 cheering supporters at a rally in central Kiev that if early parliamentary elections were held, an early presidential ballot must be held simultaneously.

The rallies are much smaller than the Orange Revolution mass protests that began on November 22, 2004, when Yushchenko called out hundreds of thousands of his supporters to protest against Yanukovych's fraud-marred victory in the bitter presidential race. Russian President Vladimir Putin then congratulated Yanukovych on his victory, but Ukraine's Supreme Court threw out the result victory and ordered another election, which Yushchenko easily won.

Both the West, with whom Yushchenko and Yanukovych have said they are eager to build closer relations, and Russia, Ukraine's historical partner, have repeatedly appealed for calm in the near three-year-old crisis.

The chief antagonists in the latest faceoff — the president and the premier — have spent hours in face-to-face talks but have not broken the deadlock. Both sides say they have offered compromises, but neither have revealed details.

The supreme court, meanwhile, was scheduled to begin hearings Wednesday on the constitutionality of the decree, but announced it would postpone the hearings until April 17 after five of the 18 judges refused to attend the hearings, citing pressure from Yanukovych's camp.

On Wednesday, Yushchenko ordered 24-hour police protection for the judges.

During his meeting with government ministers, 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. He 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 destabilize," Yanukovych said.

The president’s press service on April 11 reiterated that Yushchenko would not back down from the order to dissolve parliament citing Article 77 of the Ukraine Constitution, which says special elections "are designed by the President of the Ukraine and are held within sixty days from the day of the publication of the decision on the pre-term termination of authority of the Ukrainian parliament."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.