Ukrainians gave newly-freed opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko a hero's welcome when she spoke to protesters in Kyiv Saturday, urging them to continue their demonstrations.
As part of a deal to end weeks of violence, Tymoshenko was freed from a prison hospital where she had been serving time for abuse of power -- a charge her supporters say was political revenge by President Viktor Yanukovych.
She spoke to the crowd in Kyiv's Independence Square from a wheelchair because of severe back pain. Tymoshenko called the protesters heroes and the best of Ukraine. She implored them not to give up their demonstration, before breaking down into tears.
Earlier Saturday, Ukraine's parliament voted to dismiss President Yanukovych and set early elections for May 25.
Parliament also elected a new speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, a longtime Tymoshenko ally. Former speaker and government supporter Volodymyr Rybak resigned.
Present Yanukovych, who had fled Kyiv for the eastern city of Kharkiv, said parliament's decisions are illegal. He likened the opposition to Nazis and insisted that he will not resign or leave Ukraine.
Mr. Yanukovych, however, has been left almost powerless. His Cabinet promised to back a new government, the police said it supported the opposition, and the army said it will not get involved.
Protests erupted in November when President Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties to Russia. The protests began peacefully but descended into violence. Nearly 100 people were killed, including some protesters shot in the head by police snipers.
Ukraine is split between those in the east who favor ties with Russia, and those in the west who lean toward the European Union.
Ukrainian protesters took control of President Yanukovych's offices in Kyiv Saturday. Others let themselves onto the grounds of the president's lavish but secret estate outside Kyiv, which includes a private zoo, and toured his house. Some say they are stunned that one person could have so much while others in Ukraine have nothing.
Tymoshenko was one of the leaders of Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, when the Supreme Court threw out the results of an apparently flawed presidential election won by Mr. Yanukovych and ordered a new vote.
She became prime minister under the new president, Viktor Yushchenko. After Mr. Yanukovych defeated Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential election, she was put on trial for alleged abuse of power over a natural gas deal with Russia and sentenced to prison.