Ukraine president flees as protesters overrun leader’s palace

Viktor Yanukovych insists he is the elected president and will not resign

Calm has returned to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, after the country’s embattled president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled violent demonstrations that engulfed the city for weeks, climaxing with the release of his arch-rival, Yulia Tymoshenko.

President Viktor F. Yanukovych fled Kiev on Saturday and denounced the protest as a coup d’état. More than 80 people are believed to have died this week in Ukraine’s worst violence since the protest began November 2013.

Security forces and presidential guards said they were with the people, and put up no resistance as protesters overran the sprawling presidential palace on Saturday, and witnessed the opulence of their leader.

Mr. Yanukovych’s whereabouts are not known, although he is believed to have flown to the country’s Russian-speaking east, where he has a substantial support base.

After his departure, his nemesis and former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, was released from a prison hospital, where she was serving a seven-year term for abuse of power.

Her release followed a vote by the parliament. Lawmakers also found the president unable to fulfill his duties and exercised their constitutional powers to set an election for May 25 to select his replacement.

Ms. Tymoshenko was jailed by Mr. Yanukovych after losing the presidential election in 2010.

Many within and outside Ukraine believe her conviction was politically motivated. She is expected to contest in the new election.

After her release, Ms. Tymoshenko urged opposition supporters in Kiev’s Independence Square to continue their protests.

“Until you finish this job… nobody has the right to leave,” Ms Tymoshenko, who has a back injury, said from a wheelchair.

Earlier, the fleeing president, Mr. Yanukovych, appeared on television apparently from the eastern city of Kharkiv, near Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia, saying he had been forced to leave the capital because of a “coup,”.

He said he had not resigned, and had no plans to.

“I don’t plan to leave the country. I don’t plan to resign,” he was quoted as saying in Russian rather than Ukrainian, the country’s official language. “I am a legitimately elected president.” He added: “What is happening today, mostly, it is vandalism, banditism and a coup d’état. This is my assessment and I am deeply convinced of this. I will remain on the territory of Ukraine.”

Ukraine witnessed the deadliest day on Thursday in almost three months of anti-government demonstrations, as more people were killed after violent street clashes.

The clashes between protesters and riot police erupted anew despite a truce announced by the country’s president.

Government snipers fired at protesters who advanced police lines in central Kiev, killing at least 70 people and wounding hundreds of others, according to opposition medics.

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