Tymoshenko confidante becomes acting Ukrainian president

Tymoshenko confidante becomes acting Ukrainian president

KIEV -Agence France-Presse/Reuters
Tymoshenko confidante becomes acting Ukrainian president A new era dawned in Ukraine on Feb. 23 as parliament appointed a pro-Western interim leader after ousted President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev to escape retribution for a week of deadly carnage.

Parliament in Ukraine voted on Feb. 23 to temporarily hand over the duties of president to the speaker of the assembly, Oleksander Turchynov. 

He is considered the closest confidante of freed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and is deputy leader of her Fatherland party. Turchynov was only appointed Parliament speaker on Feb. 22 in place of a veteran Yanukovych supporter.

Lawmakers had already backed a motion on Feb. 22 to oust Yanukovych, who had abandoned the capital for eastern Ukraine and denounced what he called a "coup d'état."

The constitutional legitimacy of parliament's actions remains an open question and Yanukovych vowed in a taped interview to fight the "bandits" who now claimed to rule Ukraine.

But Yanukovych's grasp on power was in limited evidence in Kiev on Feb. 23 as the city's police presence vanished and protesters took control of everything from traffic management to protection of government buildings after a week of bloodshed that claimed nearly 100 lives.

The United States vowed to drum up financial help that could pull Ukraine out of a crisis sparked in November when Yanukovych spurned a historic EU deal and secured a $15-billion bailout for the struggling nation of 46 million people, from its old master Russia.
Turchynov immediately vowed to draw up a "government of the people" and urged leading lawmakers to build a new parliamentary majority that could swiftly approve stalled reforms.

"We have until Tuesday," the 49-year-old interim leader said. New interior minister Arsen Aviakov announced the launch of a probe into police involvement in the "execution" of protesters in a week of carnage that turned Kiev's heart into a war zone.

Yanukovych condemned by his own party

Yanukovych was dealt another blow when his own Regions Party issued a statement condemning him for issuing "criminal orders" that led to so many deaths.

Parliament also voted to dismiss Ukraine's Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara after sacking the federal police chief and prosecutor general on Feb. 22.

And it took the symbolic step of handing over Yanukovych's marble-lined mansion outside Kiev - its vast car collection and golden toilet fixtures opened up for public viewing on Feb. 22 - to the state.

Western countries gave vital but cautious backing to the sweeping changes in Ukraine while Russia once again cautioned that payment of its huge bailout package was on hold.

Ukraine stands on the precipice of a default and owes nearly $13 billion in debt payments this year -money it cannot drum up on financial markets because of prohibitively expensive borrowing costs.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told a G20 meeting in Sydney that Washington "stands ready to assist Ukraine as it implements reforms to restore economic stability and seeks to return to a path of democracy and growth."

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned it was in no one's interest to see crisis-hit Ukraine break apart. 

Putin-Merkel hold phone diplomacy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin also tried on Sunday to calm some of the Cold War-style joisting that had erupted between the West and Moscow over Ukraine's future in the past weeks.

A Merkel spokesman said the two leaders agreed on the need to preserve Ukraine territorial integrity - a reference to the deep cultural fissure that runs between the pro-European west of the country and its far more Russified east.

Russian Finance Minister Alexei Ulyukayev for his part confirmed that disbursement of the remaining $12 billion in Moscow's assistance package was on hold until the political situation in Kiev cleared up.

"The fact that the opposition groups have prevailed means that the Russia rescue deal of last December will now almost certainly be withdrawn," said Chris Weafer of the Moscow analysts Macro Advisory.

President attenpted to flee, opposition says

The whereabouts of Yanukovych remained a mystery amid speculation that he was hiding out in the pro-Russian east. Turchynov and Ukraine's border service both said Yanukovych had been prevented from fleeing the country out of the eastern city of Donetsk because his charter plane did not have the required paperwork.

"When officials arrived to check the documentation they were met by armed people who offered them money to fly out urgently," border service spokesman Serhiy Astahov told AFP.

Yanukovych claimed in his taped video message on Saturday that he would never leave Ukraine or relinquish the presidency to opponents he compared to "Nazis."

But attention of world leaders was quickly shifting to Tymoshenko amid mounting speculation that the former premier had the best chance of uniting the opposition for a presidential bid.

Tymoshenko - who had appeared before the crowd in a wheelchair on Feb. 22 because of back problems - held telephone talks with Merkel and also met Western ambassadors in Kiev.

Her spokeswoman stressed that the charismatic 53-year-old had made no decision about running in May. "This is not the right time for this," spokeswoman Natalia Lysova told AFP.

Yet Tymoshenko also rejected consideration for the post of prime minister in the new interim cabinet - a comment that reignited speculation she was intent on becoming head of state.

The opposition's main presidential challenge had until this weekend been primarily expected to come from boxer turned lawmaker Vitali Klitschko.

The popular UDAR (Punch) party leader had initially announced his presidential ambitions in October. But he backtracked from those comments on Feb. 23 in an apparent concession to Tymoshenko's continued public appeal.

"My main goal is not to take the chair of president," Klitschko told the BBC. "My main goal (is) to make Ukraine a modern European country with European standards of life. It is the main point."