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Ukraine: Parliament boss takes presidential powers

8:46 AM, Feb 24, 2014   |    comments
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Oleksandr Turchinov

KIEV, Ukraine -- With questions lingering over the direction of the Ukraine even as it starts rebuilding its government, the nation's acting interior minister on Monday issued an arrest warrant for former President Viktor Yanukovych, last seen in the pro-Russian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

In a statement on his official Facebook page, Arsen Avakhov says Yanukovych arrived in Crimea on Sunday and relinquished his official security detail then drove off to an unknown location.

He says a warrant is out for Yanukovych and several other officials, suspected in mass killings of civilians. A murder case has been opened against the former leader.

On Sunday, lawmakers elected a temporary leader, fired officials loyal to the previous government and began repealing a series of deeply unpopular laws while creating new ones.

In spite of deep divisions between the Russian-speaking east and the western region of the country, many say unity is paramount.

"We are united," lawmaker Vyacheslav Kerilenko said in parliament. "There can be no split."

There's concern that some want to initiate a split of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million, in which half the country looks toward the West and the other toward Russia.

In Donetsk, a former stronghold of the ousted president in the east, old women begged protesters not to destroy a statue of Vladimir Lenin. "They said, 'You have won, but please don't speak badly of us,' " said Denis Strashny, who works in the advertising industry.

In Odessa, a Russian-speaking city on the Black Sea, some were dismayed at a new law passed by parliament Sunday that makes Ukrainian the sole language of the country, repealing an older law that recognized Russian.

"They are afraid of what might come, that this is the beginning of an assault by Ukrainian speakers and that they will come and discriminate against Russian speakers," said Odessa native Yuri Kovalyov.

Analysts say the country needs time to calm down after three months of protesting that was capped last week by violence that left more than 80 dead.

"I think that the people who are talking about secession are a very small minority," said Vitaly Chernetsky, president of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies in Cambridge, Mass. "I think that there is a lot of diversity in Ukraine. ... When you take two different viewpoints that seem to be quite extreme and in conflict with each other (and look closely), there are many shades of grey in between."

Electing new leaders and getting Ukraine back on track, politically and economically, is at the top of parliament's to-do list.

Sunday, lawmakers elected an interim president, opposition leader Oleksandr Turchinov, and in the coming days, they will select a prime minister. Released opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has said she doesn't want the job.

Officials have moved to set up investigations into the deaths of dozens of protesters last week. Authorities plan to turn Yanukovych's mansion -- fitted with millions of dollars' worth of chandeliers and other lavish items, including ostriches, paid for by taxpayers -- into public property.

Some protesters say they are skeptical of a good and lasting outcome, pointing to the short-lived tenure of democratic changes introduced after Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution.

"This is a problem dating back to Soviet times," documentary maker Sasha Under said. "You can't change mentalities overnight."

(USA TODAY)

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