Ukraine ushers in new era as president flees

February 23, 2014 7:25 pm
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An elderly man in Kiev's Independence Square on February 23, 2014 carries a rose to a memorial for anti-government protesters killed during the past weeks' clashes/AFP
An elderly man in Kiev’s Independence Square on February 23, 2014 carries a rose to a memorial for anti-government protesters killed during the past weeks’ clashes/AFP
KIEV, Feb 23 – A new era dawned in Ukraine on Sunday as parliament appointed a pro-Western interim leader after ousted president Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev to escape retribution for a week of deadly carnage.

The ex-Soviet state’s tumultuous three-month crisis culminated in a dizzying flurry of historic changes over the weekend that saw parliament sideline the pro-Russian president and call a new poll for May 25.

Lawmakers then went a step further by approving the release from her seven-year jail sentence of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko – a star of the 2004 Orange Revolution who was thrown behind bars less than a year after Yanukovych came to power in 2010.

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 Sunday 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.

Lawmakers voted on Sunday to name close Tymoshenko ally Oleksandr Turchynov – himself only appointed parliament speaker on Saturday in place of a veteran Yanukovych supporter – as interim president tasked with forming a new government by Tuesday.

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.

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