Mon, Jan 24, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Yuschenko takes oath as president

AP , KIEV, UKRAINE

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko kisses an antique Bible after taking the oath of office during his inauguration ceremony at the parliament hall in Kiev yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Viktor Yushchenko was sworn in as president of Ukraine yesterday, two months after massive protests over his loss in a fraud-plagued election plunged the ex-Soviet republic into political crisis.

Yushchenko, a Western-oriented reformer, took the oath of office in the Verkhovna Rada parliament, placing his hand on a copy of the constitution and on an antique Bible.

After the oath, some deputies repeatedly shouted "Yu-shchen-ko, Yu-shchen-ko," an echo of the chanting that filled Kiev during the protest demonstrations. But others stood stonily unapplauding, a reflection of the deep political tensions that Yushchenko will face as the country's third post-Soviet leader.

Yushchenko was declared the loser of a Nov. 21 election that international observers said was badly marred by vote fraud. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators poured into Kiev's streets to protest the vote and demonstrations went on for weeks.

The Supreme Court annulled the election and Yushchenko won a Dec. 26 court-ordered rerun, beating then prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-supported leader, by 8 percentage points.

But Yanukovych raised a series of legal challenges to the revote, the last of which was rejected by the high court on Thursday, paving the way for the inauguration.

Yanukovych has vowed to take his complaints to the European Court of Human Rights. The court has no enforcement mechanism, but such a move could be an unwelcome shadow on Yushchenko's intentions to push for Ukraine's closer integration with the EU and NATO.

"The people of Ukraine had a fair election, with the handover of power, the Ukrainian nation has risen," Yushchenko said after taking the oath. "We have to work with the people and for the people."

Yushchenko later was to make his full speech from an outdoor stage at Independence Square, the central gathering point for demonstrators during the protests that became known as the "Orange Revolution" after Yushchenko's campaign color.

Tens of thousands of people had gathered at the square yesterday, hours before Yushchenko's speech.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was one of many dignitaries, including representatives of more than 40 countries, who came to the inauguration. Another was Georgian Parliament Speaker Nino Burdzhanadze, a leader of the 2003 protests that forced a government change in her country and that became a model for Ukraine's demonstrators.

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