KIEV, Ukraine – The Ukrainian parliament on Thursday passed a measure calling for a halt to a day-old "anti-terrorism operation" and ordering all law enforcement officers to cease fire and return to their barracks, the UNIAN news service reported.
If the steps are carried out, they could ease the political crisis that has cost scores of lives this week in clashes between protesters and security forces in Kiev, the capital. Even if the move is not successful, the ability of opposition lawmakers to push through the measure in a parliament dominated by the ruling Party of Regions was widely seen by them and many others as an important victory for their cause.
About 50 lawmakers with the Party of Regions switched sides and voted for the measure to end the operation, a de facto state of emergency called by the government's Security Services as 3-month-old protests against President Viktor Yanukovich turned violent this week. With 238 of the nation's 450 lawmakers present, all but two voted for the bill.
Three opposition leaders, including former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, reportedly went to meet with Yanukovich after the parliament session.
The vote came on a day that saw at least 70 protesters killed and hundreds wounded by gunfire and other violence, according to medical personnel treating demonstrators. Authorities said three police officers also were killed.
“Our mission today is to save human lives and the country,” opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk said to reporters after the session. “The parliament has made one of the most important steps.”
The fact that opposition lawmakers succeeded when they previously had not been able to muster a majority in the parliament on a major issue should not be underestimated, said Igor Popov, a prominent political scientist.
“This is the first vivid testimony that Yanukovich is a lame duck, whose loyalists are already abandoning his sinking ship,” Popov, president of Kiev-based think tank Politika Analytical Center, said in an interview with The Times. “But it is not obvious that riot police will obey parliament recommendations and get confined to their barracks as of now.”
Meanwhile, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said at a news conference in Warsaw that Yanukovich was ready to hold early elections this year for president and parliament and to create a government of national unity, UNIAN reported. He warned, however, that “we think it is difficult to regard these proposals seriously in the context of Yanukovich's earlier commitments falling short of being fulfilled.”
In the dark and smoky streets and squares of Kiev thousands of protesters responded to the news with a roar of cheer and applause against the backdrop of stun grenades exploding somewhere in the distance.