President Viktor Yushchenko fired a third Constitutional Court judge in an apparent attempt to prevent the body from ruling in the country's political crisis.
The move prompted Premier Viktor Yanukovych to accuse Yushchenko of violating an agreement the two leaders reached last week that paved the way for the early parliamentary elections that Yushchenko had demanded.
The former Soviet republic has been mired in a political crisis since Yushchenko's April 2 decree dissolving parliament and calling snap elections a move he said was necessary to prevent Yanukovych from usurping power. Yanukovych and his majority in parliament ignored the decision, calling it unconstitutional.
The Constitutional Court had been deliberating on the April 2 decree and its ruling could further complicate the situation, since that decree has already been annulled by Yushchenko himself and because Yanukovych, who initiated the appeal, had already agreed to the early elections.
Yushchenko's office said that the president had dismissed Judge Volodymyr Ivashchenko due to "a violation of (his) oath." Ivashchenko was the third judge dismissed in just over a week.
Analysts have suggested the moves were an attempt by Yushchenko to prevent the 18-judge panel from ruling against him. Five of the remaining judges are seen as loyal to Yushchenko and have already said publicly that they think the president's order was constitutional.
Any decision requires the consent of 12 judges.
Yanukovych, who is recovering from knee surgery in Spain, said in a statement that the president's order "doesn't correspond to our agreement." He called the judge's dismissal "another very, very dangerous step to block the work of the Constitutional Court and the judicial branch."
After days of tense negotiations, Yanukovych last week caved in to the demand for the early vote. The move was hailed as a major victory for Yushchenko, but the actual date of the vote and how the process would work has yet to be worked out and so far no progress has been made.
Yanukovych said he would ask the international community to send mediators.
"Our strategic partners are not helping resolve the conflict by continuing their neutral position," Yanukovych said. He said such an attitude "only increases the president's confidence in his illegal activity."
Late last month Yushchenko canceled his initial decree and reissued it, changing the date of elections to June 24. That move was seen as an attempt to strengthen the legal foundation for the decree, and try to pre-empt a court ruling. Lawmakers immediately launched another appeal.
If the court ruled Yushchenko's initial decree unconstitutional even if it had no legal power as the decree had been annulled that could set a precedent for a similar ruling on his second decree.
Last week, lawmakers supporting Yanukovych registered a bill, proposing to fire five other Constitutional Court judges seen as loyal to Yushchenko for violation of their oath. It was unclear when parliament would vote on the bill, but firing five judges would leave the court short of a quorum.
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