Ukraine's lawmakers vote on bills for early elections

As President Viktor Yushchenko extended his deadline, Ukraine's lawmakers on Friday began voting on a series of bills needed to hold early elections.

Ukraine has been embroiled in a political crisis since Yushchenko issued a decree on April 2 to dissolve the parliament and to call early elections.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and his governing coalition called the order illegal and appealed to the Constitutional Court.

Yushchenko and Yanukovych agreed Sunday to hold a parliamentary vote on Sept. 30, amid concerns that the standoff could escalate into violence. They gave parliament two days to adopt a package of bills needed to hold the vote.

As lawmakers failed to meet this deadline, Yushchenko gave the legislature until midnight Thursday to pass the laws, threatening to end the crisis by pulling out of parliament with his allies and having early elections within 60 days.

But after talking to Yanukovych on Friday, Yushchenko gave lawmakers one more day.

Raising pressure on the majority coalition to quickly pass the bills, Yushchenko's allies in parliament prepared to resign. The resignation of 151 lawmakers is enough to dissolve parliament and force elections in 60 days. The head of Yushchenko's faction in parliament, Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, said that 168 lawmakers were prepared to step down.

Parliament on Friday gave an initial approval to electoral bills and then took a break to allow factions' leaders to search for a compromise on conflicting issues, including a minimum voter turnout and a measure banning lawmakers from switching factions.

Yushchenko and Yanukovych were bitter rivals in Ukraine's 2004 presidential election. Yanukovych was declared the winner of a fraud-riddled vote that sparked mass protests known as the Orange Revolution. Yushchenko won a court-ordered repeat of the balloting, but Yanukovych returned to prominence last year when his party won the largest share of seats in parliament and he formed a majority coalition.