Ukraine to unveil unity cabinet after disbanding feared police
KYIV - Agence France-Presse
Woman kneels in front of Ukranian riot police unit 'Berkut' as they stand by during rallies by anti- and pro-Yanukovich supporters in the eastern city of Donetsk, Feb 23. REUTERS photoUkraine's new pro-Western leaders pledged to unveil a unity cabinet Feb. 25 after disbanding the feared riot police as they sought to build confidence in the splintered and economically ravaged ex-Soviet state.
The lineup will be read out to the masses on Kiev's barricades-riven Independence Square - the crucible of three months of unceasing protests that triggered pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych's ouster following a week of carnage in which nearly 100 people died.
"At 7:00 p.m. we will take to the stage to present the new government to the square," the UDAR (Punch) party of former boxing champion turned opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said on its website.
The untested new team of leaders is grappling with the dual threats of separatism and a looming debt default as it tries to piece the vast nation back together after its worst crisis since independence in 1991.
Its headaches are compounded by Moscow's decision to freeze the disbursement of a massive bailout package that Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to Yanukovych as his reward for rejecting closer EU ties.
Ukraine faces foreign debt payments of $13 billion this year and has less than $18 billion in its fast depleting coffers - a grim equation that has forced it to seek as much as $35 billion from Western states.
The anti-government protests that appear to have once again turned the strategic nation on a Westward course erupted over Yanukovych's shock decision in November to ditch an historic EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with old master Russia.
The deposed leader - declared wanted for "mass murder" along with his former head of police and prosecutor general - is believed to have gone into hiding in the Russian-speaking southern peninsula of Crimea that is now threatening to secede from Ukraine.
'No more Berkut'
Meanwhile, acting interior minister Arsen Avakov announced on his Facebook account that he was dissolving the infamous Berkut riot police unit effective immediately.
"The Berkut is no more," Avakov wrote.
The elite units became known for carrying shields and Kalashnikov rifles as they cracked down on protesters in Kiev and brutally beat those detained - forcing one man to strip naked in the freezing cold and parade in front of a police camera in one incident.
But Avakov said nothing about how he would deal with a possible insurrection from one of the country's best-armed and trained forces - a 5,000-strong contingent with men in every corner of Ukraine.
Ukraine's armed forces and police units had largely shied away from choosing sides in the conflict.
But they are also facing increasing pressure in pro-Russian regions to turn against provisional leaders whom Moscow accuses of leading an "armed mutiny."
The new team's attempts to ensure control of the security forces continued on Feb. 25 when interim president Oleksandr Turchynov pronounced himself commander in chief of the armed forces.
But questions linger about the constitutional legitimacy of parliament's decision to oust Yanukovych and free opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko from her seven-year prison sentence.
Much of the West appears to have resolved those doubts in the new leaders' favour. Britain's Hague is expected in Ukraine shortly while U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns arrived on Tuesday for a meeting with Turchynov.
Russia condemns 'neo-fascism'
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow thought it imperative "for the international community to issue an objective and impartial assessment" of events in Ukraine.
"Lavrov called on the OSCE to denounce in the strongest terms possible the rise of nationalist and neo-fascist sentiments in the west of the country," the foreign ministry said in a statement issued after talks between Lavrov and Organisation for Security and Cooperation secretary general Lamberto Zannier.
Fears of pro-Russian regions breaking away saw Turchynov on Feb. 25abruptly walk out of an emergency session of parliament to consult his security chiefs.
Top among the concerns are fears of mob violence in Crimea. Crowds have already ousted the mayor of the port city of Sevastopol - home to the Kremlin's navies for the past 250 years -- and appointed a Russian citizen in his place.
Three of Ukraine's post-Soviet leaders - who included former Moscow ally Leonid Kuchma - issued a joint statement accusing Russia of "resorting to direct intervention in the political life of Crimea."
Russia must "show respect to the choices made by the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government," said a statement posted by former president Viktor Yushchenko and also featuring the names of Kuchma and former leader Leonid Kravchuk.