Inauguration day set for Sunday in Ukraine
KIEV, Ukraine - Parliament scheduled a Sunday inauguration fo President-elect Viktor Yushchenko, setting the stage for the transition to a new government for Ukraine following months of divisive political crisis.
Ukraine's new leadership and Russia ¡ª the longtime dominant power in the country ¡ª made moves to patch up the deep strains between them. Yushchenko will visit Moscow on Monday, a day after the inauguration, his spokeswoman said.
From Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his congratulations Thursday to Yushchenko ¡ª the man who defeated the Kremlin's favorite and who is likely to move Ukraine away from Russia's sphere of influence and toward the European Union.
"Accept my congratulations and warmest wishes in connection with your election to the post of president of Ukraine," Putin said in a statement.
"The development of good-neighborly and equal relations with Ukraine is one of the most important national priorities of Russia," he said.
Yushchenko had indicated earlier that his first foreign visit as president would be to Russia, but the timing suggested a strong desire to smooth relations with Ukraine's giant, economically critical neighbor even as he pushes for closer integration with Western Europe.
With the inauguration set, preparations began: Workers Thursday draped the columns of a concert hall in Kiev's Independence Square with bright orange decorations ¡ª Yushchenko's campaign color, which became the emblem of Ukrainians' discontent and hopes for change.
Outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, a close Putin ally, also congratulated Yushchenko. Kuchma, whose decade in power was marked by intimidation against the opposition and allegations of corruption and illegal trading with Iraq, had backed former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as his choice to succeed him.
Earlier Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected Yanukovych's appeal against the results of last month's election, saying there was insufficient evidence to support his claim that millions of citizens were deprived of their right to vote.
The steps move Ukraine toward the end of a vehement fight for the presidency that played out in the courts and the streets. Yanukovych was declared the winner of a Nov. 21 run-off, but Yushchenko's supporters claimed widespread fraud and launched weeks of massive protests in the captial.
The Supreme Court ruled that the November vote was skewed by fraud in favor of Yanukovych and cancelled it, ordering a Dec, 26 repeat of the runoff. Yushchenko was declared the winner of the December vote by a margin of about 8 percentage points, prompting an appeal by Yanukovych.
With that appeal defeated, parliament voted to set a date for Yushchenko's inauguration, with 309 of the chamber's 450 deputies approving a Sunday ceremony.
Details of the inauguration program were still being worked out, and the Foreign Ministry was sending last-minute invitations to heads of state.
The inauguration is to begin with Yushchenko taking the oath of office in the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, followed by a military ceremony at Mariinsky Palace, the presidential ceremonial building.
Then, in what is likely to be the emotional highlight of the day, Yushchenko will make a speech at Independence Square, the center of the huge demonstrations that broke out after the Nov. 21 runoff.
At the tent village near the square, where a core of several hundred Yushchenko supporters have been camped since late November, the publication of the results brought delight.
"I'm proud for our country, which will become a part of Europe," said 30-year-old Pavlo Levchuk.
Yanukovych representative Nestor Shufrich said the loser's camp would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. That likely would be an attempt to undermine Yushchenko's standing among the Western European countries he aims to court for integration into the European Union.
Yushchenko's side dismissed such threats. Ukraine, under Yushchenko, "will show what real democracy means," aide Petro Poroshenko declared.
Yanukovych's appeal to the Supreme Court was based on contentions that massive numbers of Ukrainians were denied the right to vote in the Dec. 26 election because of changes in the use of absentee ballots. He submitted more than 600 volumes of documents, including complaints about procedural and other violations.
But Svetlana Kustova, representing Yushchenko in the court, told the judges that the veracity of many of the documents was in doubt, saying that many of the complaints were written in suspiciously similar format.
Shufrich said Yushchenko would be "an illegitimate president. Yushchenko's staff is interested only in crowning him and inaugurating him."