Updated 11:06am EST
Ukraine’s beleaguered President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev Saturday as protestors took full control of Ukraine’s capital, signaling a dramatic turn in the three-month crisis just hours after the signing of an European Union-sponsored peace deal.
As police abandoned their posts across the capital, the opposition established control over key intersections and captured the presidential palace, setting up a perimeter around Yanukovych’s former residence, reports the Associated Press. Ukraine’s parliament passed a resolution stating Yanukovych “is removing himself [from power] because he is not fulfilling his obligations,” and voted to hold early presidential elections on May 25.
Yanukovych fled to the eastern city of Kharkiv where he traditionally has a more solid base of support, and announced on television he would not resign.
“I am not leaving the country for anywhere. I do not intend to resign. I am the legitimately elected president,” Yanukovych said, in a televised speech. Thousands of anti-Yanukovych protestors took to streets in Kharkiv, chanting “Ukraine is not Russia!”
In Kiev, the parliament also voted to release opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from jail, where she had been serving a bitterly contested sentence for abuse of power. Tymoshenko emerged from a prison hospital where she had been treated for a back injury to cheers from supporters.
Russia, the president’s staunchest ally, condemned the opposition’s moves. “The opposition has not only failed to meet a single one of its obligations, but is also pushing new demands, submitting itself to armed extremists and looters whose actions pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and constitutional order of Ukraine,” said a statement from the Russian foreign ministry.
After fears during this week’s violence that Yanukovych would call a state of emergency and mobilize the military against anti-government protestors, the Army announced Saturday “it will in no way become involved in the political conflict,” according to the Agence France-Presse. Police said earlier that they were “at the service of the people” and “completely shares its aspirations for rapid changes.”
As part of the Western-brokered agreement some opposition leaders signed Friday, elections in Ukraine would be moved up from March 2015 to December 2014 at the latest, but many protestors said they wanted nothing short of Yanukovych’s immediate resignation.
The agreement arose out of the worst violence in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, when over a hundred died in Kiev’s streets in pitched battles between protestors and police.