Ukraine looked with hope to the future yesterday at the onset of the New Year after Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich resigned and all but admitted losing last weekend's historic presidential rerun vote.
In tumultuous scenes on Kiev's main Independence Square, 100,000 people packed into the city's central point to ring in the New Year with victorious opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who led a "rose" revolution in Tbilisi last year.
Speaking before the crowd as fireworks lit the night sky, Saakashvili hailed Ukraine's "orange revolution" that brought Yushchenko to power as "a triumph of good over evil."
Yushchenko -- the declared winner of last Sunday's presidential poll -- took center stage to reiterate that "Ukrainians had been independent for 13 years, but now they are free."
Yanukovich resigned from his post and said that his appeals over the Dec. 26 vote were unlikely to be granted, but stopped short of conceding defeat in the poll, which would have brought Ukraine's six-week election saga to an end.
"I have made a decision and am formally submitting my resignation," Yanukovich said in a televised address. "I find it impossible to occupy any post in a government headed by these authorities."
"Concerning the election results, we are keeping up the fight but I don't have much hope for a just decision from the central election commission and the supreme court," he said.
Yanukovich repeated his assertion that "external forces" were responsible for his defeat in the Dec. 26 vote.
But he got no support from Ukraine's outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, who called on the nation during his New Year address to "accept the democratic choice" made in the presidential poll.
"In 2005 Ukraine will have a new president and the whole Ukraine must accept this democratic choice as its own -- because this man will need your support," he said without naming the election's declared winner, Yushchenko.
Kuchma spoke as tens of thousands of people massed in Independence Square, the epicenter of the "orange revolution" where shortly before midnight, pro-West Yushchenko and Saa-kashvili basked in the success of their respective peaceful uprisings against Soviet-era regimes.
Yushchenko's "orange revolution" marked the second year in a row that peaceful protests headed by a Western-leaning leader swept out a Russia-friendly regime in an ex-Soviet nation.
Moscow has accused the US of fomenting the unrest in order to install allies in its strategic backyard, charges that Washington has denied.
But opposition movements in authoritarian-leaning former Soviet republics and Russia have hailed the peaceful uprisings and in the heat of the "orange" demonstrations, Belarussians, Armenians, Azeris and Russians mingled with Ukrainian protesters in central Kiev.
Yushchenko mounted 17 days of mass protests after he refused to concede defeat to Yanukovich in a Nov. 21 runoff because of fraud.
The supreme court annulled the election due to massive ballot-rigging and ordered a historic rerun vote, which Yushchenko won by more than 2.2 million votes.