Crimean President Dissolves Parliament, Assumes Emergency Powers
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) _ Crimea’s president disbanded parliament Sunday, claiming all power on the restive peninsula for himself. Outraged lawmakers accused him of engineering a coup.
The specter of two rival government branches claiming ultimate authority renewed fears of violence in the volatile Black Sea province, home of the powerful Black Sea Fleet and important Russian military bases.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, at a Crimean resort, refused to take sides and called for a ″civilized solution″ to a dispute he said could destabilize the nation.
Police stayed out of the dispute, and a joint statement from the general prosecutor, the interior minister and the security service said they would try keep security forces out of the political battle.
In a speech denouncing lawmakers as corrupt and unworthy, Crimean President Yuri Meshkov said he was imposing emergency rule and would exercise ″full power″ until an April 9 referendum to resolve the deadlock. He said elections would be held three months after the referendum.
The presidential guard sealed off the locked parliament building and the TV center, and state-run television and radio broadcast Meshkov’s decree throughout the day. The decree also dissolved local councils.
After Meshkov met with legislative leaders and refused to back down, the parliament’s executive committee issued a statement accusing him of attempting a coup.
Lawmakers had stripped Meshkov of many of his powers on Wednesday in the dispute over whether the president or parliament has greater power.
Seventy-two of Crimea’s 98 lawmakers held an emergency session in the general prosecutor’s office around the corner from the parliament building. Meshkov’s guard made no attempt to stop them.
The legislators voted unanimously to ask the Supreme Court for a ruling on Meshkov’s decree and to ask Meshkov to withdraw his guard from the parliament building and the TV center.
″Bandits have occupied our house,″ said lawmaker Mikhail Bakharev. ″It’s only natural that we should fight them - the police must come to our assistance to defend the law.″
Outside the parliament building, lawmaker Leonid Grach called Meshkov’s action a ″stupid move″ that would ″weaken the already fragile political situation in Crimea.″
As he spoke, elderly Meshkov supporters taunted him with chants of ″criminal″ - echoes of Meshkov’s charge that many lawmakers are corrupt.
Crimea has been a flashpoint since Meshkov’s election in January on a separatist, pro-Russian platform. About two-thirds of the Crimea’s 2 million people are ethnic Russians.
Meshkov and the parliament brought Crimea close to civil war in May by adopting a constitution regarded by Kiev as tantamount to a declaration of independence. They later backed down in the face of threats from Kiev.