POSTED: 06:35 a.m. HST, Feb 22, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 06:36 a.m. HST, Feb 22, 2014
KIEV, Ukraine >> Protesters took control of Ukraine's capital Saturday, seizing the president's office as parliament voted to remove him and hold new elections. President Viktor Yanukovych described the events as a coup and insisted he would not step down.
After a tumultuous week that left scores dead and Ukraine's political destiny in flux, fears mounted that the country could split in two -- a Europe-leaning west and a Russian-leaning east and south.
Parliament arranged the release of Yanukovych's arch-rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, but the president said he would not recognize any of the lawmakers' decisions as valid.
Yanukovych left Kiev for his support base in the country's Russian-speaking east, where lawmakers questioned the legitimacy of the newly empowered legislature and called for volunteer militias to uphold order.
"They are trying to scare me. I have no intention to leave the country. I am not going to resign, I'm the legitimately elected president," Yanukovych said in a televised statement, clearly shaken and with long pauses in his speaking.
"Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d'etat," he said. "I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed."
Ukraine, a nation of 46 million, has huge strategic importance to Russia, Europe and the United States.
The country's western regions, angered by corruption in Yanukovych's government, want to be closer to the European Union and have rejected Yanukovych's authority in many cities. Eastern Ukraine, which accounts for the bulk of the nation's economic output, favors closer ties with Russia and has largely supported the president. The three-month protest movement was prompted by the president's decision to abort an agreement with the EU in favor of a deal with Moscow.