Ukraine elects new parliament speaker, acting interior minister (Roundup)

Kiev, Feb 22: The Ukrainian parliament elected a new parliament speaker and acting interior minister during its emergency session Saturday even as President Viktor Yanukovych reportedly left Kiev and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was released from jail.

Alexandr Turchinov, an ally of Tymoshenko, was elected speaker after predecessor Volodymyr Rybak resigned due to health reasons, Xinhua reported.

Turchinov, a long-term lawmaker and a first deputy chairman of the opposition Fatherland party, won 288 of the 326 votes cast in the 450-seat parliament.

The 49-year-old served as the first deputy prime minister in Tymoshenko’s government from 2007 to 2010.

Meanwhile, opposition lawmaker, Arsen Avakov, one of the leaders of the anti-government protests, was elected acting interior minister until the new inclusive government is formed.

A total of 275 lawmakers supported the candidacy of Avakov to replace Vitaly Zakharchenko, who was dismissed by the parliament Friday over the violence against protesters.

On Saturday, the parliament also passed a no-confidence motion against Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka.

Meanwhile, local media reported that President Viktor Yanukovych had left Kiev. Unconfirmed reports said he had gone to the eastern city of Kharkov.

According to the BBC, opposition leaders said that President Yanukovych must stand down immediately.

The report said there was no sign of security forces inside the previously heavily guarded presidential complex in Kiev, though some government employees arrived for work.

Opposition leader Vitaly Klitchko called for early presidential election in May, rather than December as was planned under a peace deal signed Friday between the president and the opposition.

The agreement, aimed at ending anti-government rallies, envisaged the reduction of presidential powers through constitutional changes, the formation of a national unity government within 10 days and an early presidential election.

The three-month rallies turned violent again Tuesday, leading to at least 77 deaths.

In another development later Saturday, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was released from jail, ITAR-TASS reported.

Relatives have left for Kharkov to meet her, the report said.

Tymoshenko will be also met by representatives of the European Parliament, her daughter Yevgeniya, told Verkhovna Rada, the country’s parliament.

Tymoshenko, a key opposition leader, was convicted in October 2011 of abuse of power over a 2009 gas deal with Russia.

She was also charged with embezzling an estimated $405 million and evading more than $87,000 in tax in the 1990s.

The 53-year-old opposition leader has denied all the charges, saying they are politically motivated, according to Xinhua.

On Friday, lawmakers voted to amend the Ukrainian law on corruption and decriminalise the charge counts under which Tymoshenko was imprisoned.

IANS