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Ukrainian leadership in doubt as president ousted

By Agencies in Kiev, Ukraine | China Daily | Updated: 2014-02-24 08:08

Yanukovych's whereabouts unknown; Parliament appoints acting leader

The whereabouts and legitimacy of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych were unclear on Sunday, after he left the capital and his archfoe, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was freed from prison and returned to Kiev to address a massive, adoring crowd.

Ukraine's newly emboldened legislature voted on Sunday to remove the president and hand his powers to the parliamentary speaker, a Tymoshenko ally. But Yanukovych has said that Parliament's decisions are illegal.

Tymoshenko said on Sunday that she would not seek the post of prime minister in a new coalition government formed following the ouster of Yanukovych.

"Information that I was being considered for the post of prime minister of Ukraine came as a surprise," the former premier said in a statement.

A plane with Yanukovych onboard was denied permission to take off on Saturday evening from Donetsk, the city in eastern Ukraine that is the president's base of support, the State Border Guard Service said. The president's spokesman said on Sunday morning that even he does not know where Yanukovych is.

Ukraine is deeply divided between eastern regions that are largely pro-Russian and western areas that widely detest Yanukovych and long for closer ties with the European Union. Yanukovych's shelving of an agreement with the EU in November set off a wave of protests that quickly expanded their grievances to corruption, human rights abuses and calls for Yanukovych's resignation.

The Kiev protest camp at the center of the anti-Yanukovych movement filled with more and more dedicated demonstrators on Sunday, setting up new tents after a day that saw a stunning reversal of fortune in a political standoff that has left scores dead and worried the United States, Europe and Russia.

"We need to catch and punish those with blood on their hands," said Artyom Zhilyansky, a 45-year-old engineer on Independence Square on Sunday, referring to those killed in clashes with police last week.

He and other protesters called for law enforcement chiefs to be held accountable and Yanukovych put on trial.

The newly emboldened Parliament, in a special session on Sunday, voted overwhelmingly to temporarily hand presidential powers to speaker Oleksandr Turchinov, the closest confidante of the freed Tymoshenko.

Lawmakers also voted to remove a string of government ministers and tried to work out a coalition government. However, the legitimacy of the Parliament's flurry of decisions in recent days is under question.

The votes are based on a decision on Friday to return to a 10-year-old Constitution that grants Parliament greater powers. Yanukovych, however, had not signed that decision into law, and said on Saturday that the Parliament is now acting illegally.

The political crisis in the nation of 46 million has changed with blinding speed repeatedly in the past week. First, there were signs that tensions were easing, followed by horrifying violence and then a deal signed under Western pressure that aimed to resolve the conflict but left the unity of the country in question.


 Ukrainian leadership in doubt as president ousted

Newly freed Ukrainian opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko kisses a flower as she visits the site where an opposition protester was killed near a barricade on Grushevsky street in Kiev on Saturday. Tymoshenko, Ukraine's opposition leader and former premier, was sentenced to a seven-year jail term in 2011 for abuse of power. Andrew Kravchenko / Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 02/24/2014 page12)

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