Ukraine in power vacuum after president ousted

Kiev, Feb 23: Dramatic changes were witnessed in Ukraine as parliament ousted President Viktor Yanukovich after more than three months of violent protests and released his arch rival Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yanukovich, who insisted he would not step down, has left Kiev for his support base in the country’s pro-Russian east, resulting in a political vacuum in the government, reports Xinhua.

Former prime minister Tymoshenko Saturday came to the spotlight as she turned up at the Independence Square and addressed anti-government protestors in central Kiev soon after she was freed from jail.

Yanukovich had warned that he would not accept any parliament decisions as opposition leaders behaved as “gangsters who terrorize Ukrainian people”.

“The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d’etat,” he said, comparing it to the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in the 1930s.

It was unclear who would fill the vacuum left by Yanukovich as parliament voted to set early elections for May 25.

Opposition lawmaker Arsen Avakov, one of the leaders of the anti-government protests, was elected Saturday as the acting interior minister by parliament until a new government is formed.

Parliament also elected Alexandr Turchinov, an ally of Tymoshenko, as the new speaker after his predecessor Volodymyr Rybak resigned due to health reasons.

Opposition web site Ukrainska Pravda said Tymoshenko intends to run for president in May.

Late Saturday, Turchinov said the protests have reached their goals and urged the activists to end their demonstration.

However, Tymoshenko called on protestors to continue their encampment at the Independence Square.

“You are heroes, you are the best thing in Ukraine!” the opposition icon said in a touching speech to a 50,000-strong crowd in the square, known in Ukrainian as the Maidan.

“In no case do you have the right to leave the Maidan until you have concluded everything that you planned to do,” she said, sitting in a wheelchair due to a back problem.

The Independence Square, where a sprawling protest tent camp was set up in December, has been the centre stage for the past three months of anti-government demonstrations in Ukraine that has claimed dozens of lives.

Disturbances in Kiev this week left 80 people dead, according to the latest official figures, although opposition groups say that nearly 100 people were killed Thursday alone.

The US and the European Union hailed unanimously the ouster of Yanukovich.

The US said Saturday the dramatic ouster of Yanukovich and the release of Tymoshenko could move the country away from violence and towards a political settlement.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton Saturday welcomed the release of Tymoshenko.

“This comes as an important step forward in view of addressing concerns regarding selective justice in the country,” said Ashton.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Saturday expressed serious concern over what he called the failure of the Ukrainian opposition to fulfill a peace deal.

“The opposition has not fulfilled any obligations and it has made new demands following the actions taken by armed extremists and rioters, who posed a direct threat to sovereignty and the constitutional system of Ukraine,” Lavrov told foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France.

Lavrov urged the three Western ministers, who mediated and witnessed the signing of the crisis settlement agreement Friday, to use their influence upon the opposition to stop the violence immediately.

IANS