KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's biggest opposition group launched a campaign Monday to impeach President Viktor Yanukovych for what it called suspected constitutional violations, the stifling of democracy and the persecution of opposition leaders.
Yanukovych is under fire from the West over the politically tainted jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader who he beat in Ukraine's 2010 presidential election. European Union leaders boycotted Euro 2012 soccer games in Ukraine last month over her imprisonment.
With the Oct. 28 parliamentary election only three months away, Tymoshenko's party announced a campaign to sue Yanukovych for his alleged crimes and then impeach him. And while Ukrainian courts, which usually toe the government line, were unlikely to rule against Yanukovych, experts said the project could help mobilize support for the opposition ahead of the crucial vote.
The "Ukraine against Yanukovych" campaign, which has the crossed-out profile of Yanukovych wearing a royal crown as a logo, will collect signatures in support of a lawsuit against the president, and then try to launch the impeachment process in parliament.
"The aim of this campaign is to end the powers of President Viktor Yanukovych," Tymoshenko's top aide Oleksandr Turchynov told a news conference Monday. "Yes, this will not happen right away, but this task will be fulfilled."
Democracy has suffered a major setback in Ukraine since Yanukovych came to power in 2010. The 62-year-old pro-Russia leader has tinkered with the constitution to boost his powers, sought to limit media freedom and curbed anti-government protests.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a prominent pro-Western opposition leader who joined forces with Tymoshenko's party after she was imprisoned in October, said the opposition will ask Ukrainians to support a lawsuit against Yanukovych for abusing his office and act as co-plaintiffs.
"The opposition is launching an offensive against Viktor Yanukovych," he said.
Yatsenyuk, a millionaire banker and former parliament speaker, said if a court finds Yanukovych guilty the opposition will be able to initiate a parliamentary investigation into Yanukovych's alleged misdeeds and begin the impeachment procedure. If Ukrainian courts do not find him guilty, the opposition will turn to international courts, Yatsenyuk said.
Tymoshenko, the president's main political opponent, was the charismatic heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution that promoted democratic reforms. After Yanukovych came to power, she was sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly overstepping her powers when authorizing a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009.
The subject of a slew of other criminal charges and investigations, Tymoshenko maintains her innocence and says that Yanukovych threw her in jail to bar her from the parliamentary election. Yanukovych denies involvement in her case.