Ukraine's Yanukovich goes on sick leave in midst of political crisis
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich went on sick leave today after a bruising session of parliament, leaving a political vacuum in a country threatened with bankruptcy and destabilized by anti-government protests.
The 63-year-old president has appeared increasingly isolated in a crisis born of a tug-of-war between the West and Ukraine's former Soviet overlord Russia. A former president said this week the violence had brought Ukraine to the brink of civil war.
Shortly after his office announced he had developed a high temperature and acute respiratory ailment, Yanukovich defended his record in handling the crisis and accused the opposition, which is demanding his resignation, of provoking the unrest.
"We have fulfilled all the obligations which the authorities took on themselves," he said, referring to a bill passed late on Wednesday granting a conditional amnesty for activists who had been detained.
"However, the opposition continues to whip up the situation, calling on people to stand in the cold for the sake of the political ambitions of a few leaders. I think this is wrong," the presidential statement said.
The amnesty offered freedom from prosecution to peaceful protesters, but only on condition that activists left official buildings they have occupied - something they have rejected.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned on Tuesday after a sharp escalation of the street unrest, which began in November over Yanukovich's rejection of a European Union deal in favor of closer ties and a bailout deal with Russia.
The president, under pressure from Moscow not to tilt policy back towards the West, has yet to appoint a successor. Serhiy Arbuzov, Azarov's first deputy and a close family friend of Yanukovich, has stepped in as interim prime minister.
"The president of Ukraine has been officially registered as sick, with an acute respiratory ailment and a high temperature," a statement on the presidential website said.