Chaos in Kiev: Yanukovych Flees, Tymoshenko Free
UPDATE 4:33 PM ET: This concludes our live update. For more on Ukraine, click here
UPDATE 4:09 PM ET: Reuters reports that Ukraine's border authorities said they had refused to allow ousted President Viktor Yanukovich to leave the country.
The Interfax news agency said: "Armed men had tried to bribe border staff at Donetsk airport in the east of the country to allow the charter flight to take off but they had refused, the agency, quoting an aide of the head of the state border service, said.
"Yanukovich subsequently got off the plane and left in a waiting car, it said."
UPDATE 3:25 PM ET: McCain approves:
UPDATE 3:07 PM ET: The editor of Ukraine's English language paper, the KyivPost, tweets live from Independence Square: "Protesters on Maidan greet Tymoshenko w/ skepticism. Rousing speech, but not enough to win over hearts & minds of all those on streets".
UPDATE 2:31 PM ET: Tymoshenko addresses the Independence Square [Translation live from Sky News UK]: "I dreamt of seeing all these forces that are changing this country. You're heroes, you're the best sons of Ukraine...
"When I came to Kiev I just couldn't recognise this city. The barricades, the burnt houses, cars... but this country is now a country of free people. You gave the country this freedom... The people that were here, that died here, are the heroes... We have to bring to justice anyone who shot the heroes of Maidan...
"I want you to know that each moment that you were on the barricades and when people were killed, I was thinking about you and regretting that I was not with you, my dears... You have to remember the people that were here... you have to remember their faces and remember their sacrifice...
"I was crying when I saw these unarmed guys on Maidan, when they were shot when they were trying to take the bodies of their fellows. I admire the people who were able to create the makeshift hospitals...
"No one will deceive you, I promise you.
UPDATE 2:27 PM ET: The Guardian is re-reporting a BBC claim that Tymoshenko has been talking to supporters in a street near Kiev’s Independence Square. She apparently commented: “If you only knew how many times I wanted to be here, how many times I wanted to hold the hands of those who fought and never gave up... My dearest kin, you are the best in the world. There is no-one else, no-one. Glory to Ukraine!”
UPDATE 2:05 PM ET: The White House has released a statement that says: "The United States is closely monitoring the developments in Ukraine. We have consistently advocated a de-escalation of violence, constitutional change, a coalition government and early elections, and today's developments could move us closer to that goal. The unshakeable principle guiding events must be that the people of Ukraine determine their own future. We welcome constructive work in the Rada [Parliament] and continue to urge the prompt formation of a broad, technocratic government of national unity. We welcome former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's release from a prison hospital today, and we wish her a speedy recovery as she seeks the appropriate medical treatment that she has long needed and sought".
"We continue to urge an end to violence by all sides and a focus on peaceful, democratic dialogue, working pursuant to Ukraine’s constitution and through its institutions of government. Going forward, we will work with our allies, with Russia, and with appropriate European and international organizations to support a strong, prosperous, unified, and democratic Ukraine. Going forward, the Ukrainian people should know that the United States deeply values our long-standing ties with Ukraine and will support them as they pursue a path of democracy and economic development".
UPDATE 1:40 PM ET: Yulia Tymoshenko remarks that she is "sure Ukraine will join the European Union in the near future", Sky News reports. She said, "This will change everything".
UPDATE: 1:21 PM ET: Tymoshenko almost to the Square:
UPDATE 1:19 PM ET: Protestors are converging on Yanukovich's compound in Kiev, resulting in some disturbing finds:
UPDATE 12:39 PM ET: According to an editor of the Kyiv Post, former President Yulia Tymoshenko has arrived in Kiev following her release from prison:
UPDATE 11:59 AM ET: According to Ukraine's parliamentary speaker, President Viktor Yanukovych tried to board a plane to flee to Russia but was stopped by border officials. He is reportedly now somewhere in the eastern region of the country.
UPDATE 11:47 AM ET: Yulia Tymoshenko says she will run for president of Ukraine.
UPDATE 11:44 AM ET: The Kyiv Post reports parliament will vote on a new prime minister tomorrow:
UPDATE 11:08 AM ET: Yulia Tymoshenko is reported to have left the hospital at the prison where she was being held and is travelling to Kiev.
UPDATE 10:45 AM ET: Oleksandr Turchynov, the opposition leader now appointed as parliament speaker and acting prime minister, said that Viktor Yanukovych had agreed to resign as president but disavowed the decision and even a pre-recorded resignation statement after consulting with advisers. Turchynov said that Yanukovych abandoned his duties and his location is unknown. Therefore, parliament moved ahead to impeach him for leaving his post and set early presidential elections for May 25. Valentyn Nalivaychenko was unanimously appointed head of Security Service of Ukraine.
The Chairman of Russia’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Mikhail Margelov, is reportedly in Kharkov with Yanukovich.
ORIGINAL STORY: The situation in Kiev appears to be the very definition of a coup, with the opposition, parliament, police, and military now turning on the regime of Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych, who has clung to power as long as he possibly can but whose exit is now reported to be a fait accompli.
Among reports that the President has fled Kiev comes news that the military and police are now either working with the opposition protesters or at least hedging their bets as a feeling of nervousness pulses through governing parties.
With an agreement signed yesterday and with former President Yulia Tymoshenko set to be released, there can be no doubt that indeed a major coup has been achieved by the protesters.
In December, it was scarcely imaginable that such a U-turn could be made by Yanukovych. His decision to send in police to clear the Maidan Square was a drastic miscalculation, as it proved to be the turning point in the conflict between the government and protesters.
Just one month ago, commentators noted that the protesters in Kiev's Independence Square were waning in number and that public support for the movement was faltering. But Yanukovych, with Russian President Vladimir Putin's backing, overplayed his hand when he and parliament pushed through strict anti-demonstration laws and went after the Catholic Church after clergy set up tents for people to pray and worship. This led to today's climactic situation.
Yanukovych loyalists are now fleeing his Party of the Regions, and some reports even suggest that the President is now the former President, having abdicated his position.
The power vacuum in the country's capital is arguably more dangerous than an elongated transition from Yanukovych's rule.
With the Parliament having just dismissed the President, expect a long-running, Egypt-esque tussle over the future of the country.
If it can be accurately stated that the European Union and the United States have helped to support and orchestrate a coup on Russia's doorstep, the ramifications all the way from Washington, Brussels, London, and even as far as Damascus will be nothing less than grave.
Mary Chastain and Raheem Kassam contributed to this report.