December 20, 2014
Ukraine parliament names acting president
Ukraine's parliament, exercising power since mass protests put the president to flight, has named its new speaker as acting head of state to replace Viktor Yanukovich and worked to form a new government.
In a hectic round of voting in the chamber, near where triumphant but wary protesters remain encamped on Kiev's main square, lawmakers stripped the still missing president of his abandoned country home. Its brash opulence, now on display, has fuelled demands that the Russian-backed, elected leader and his allies be held to account for corruption on a grand scale.
The European Union and Russia, vying for influence over the huge former Soviet republic on their borders, considered their next moves. EU officials said they were ready to help Ukraine, while Russia, its strategy of funding Yanukovich in tatters, said it would keep cash on hold until it sees who is in charge.
Parliament-appointed security officials announced legal moves against members of the ousted administration and those responsible for sniper fire and other police attacks on demonstrators in violence that left 82 dead in Kiev last week.
A day after dismissing Yanukovich with the help of votes from his own party, parliament handed his powers temporarily to Oleksander Turchinov, who was elected speaker yesterday.
An ally of newly freed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, Turchinov called for an interim prime minister to be in place by Tuesday to run the country until a presidential election called for May 25. Among contenders may be Tymoshenko, 53, who lost to Yanukovich in 2010 and was then jailed for corruption.
Yanukovich, 63, denounced what he called a "coup d'etat" reminiscent of Nazi Germany. He spoke on television from what looked like a hotel room in a city close to the Russian border.
With pro-EU protesters still controlling central Kiev, and crowds on the streets in other towns and cities, parliament is under pressure to demonstrate its authority across the nation and to calm fears of a split with pro-Russian regional leaders in the fallen president's eastern political base.
"In these days the most important thing is to form a functioning government," said Vitaly Klitschko, a former world boxing champion and a leading figure in the uprising.
"We have to take very important steps in order to ensure the survival of the economy, which is in a very bad shape," he told a news conference. He denied there had been a coup.
"Parliament is the last legal official institution in Ukraine," he said. "Nobody knows where the president of Ukraine is. We tried to find him all day yesterday. His location is unknown. He left the country without a president."
Even the president's Party of the Regions, backed by many of the wealthy "oligarchs" who dominate Ukraine's post-Soviet economy, seems to have given up on a wavering leader with whom Moscow had last week appeared to be losing patience.
"The changes that have happened, have happened. It's already done," said Tatyana Bakhteyeva, a parliamentarian from Yanukovich's home region of Donetsk. Party lawmakers issued a statement blaming Yanukovich and his entourage for the crisis.