The Ukraine’s parliament yesterday named its new speaker as acting head of state to replace Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who fled in the face of mass protests.
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 missing president of his abandoned country home.
Ukrainian TV showed night-time security camera footage it said showed the fleeing head of state departing Kiev in a helicopter.
Interfax news agency said border guards refused to let Yanukovich leave the country when he tried to take an unscheduled charter flight from Donetsk and he was eventually driven away by his security guards.
At Yanukovich’s abandoned secret estate, people flocked to take photographs of his private zoo and lavish waterways and follies. Its brash opulence has fueled demands that the Russian-backed leader and his allies be held to account for corruption on a grand scale.
The EU and Russia, vying for influence over the huge former Soviet republic, considered their next moves. EU officials said they were ready to help the Ukraine, while Moscow — 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 speaker Oleksander Turchinov, who was elected on Saturday.
An ally of newly freed opposition leader and former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Turchinov called for an interim prime minister to be in place by tomorrow to run the country until a presidential election called for May 25 is held. Among contenders may be Tymoshenko, 53, who lost to Yanukovich in 2010 and was then jailed for corruption.
Speaking on TV from what looked like a hotel room in a city close to the Russian border, Yanukovich, 63, on Saturday denounced what he called a “coup d’etat” reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
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 calm fears of a split with pro-Russian 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 leading opposition figure.
“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, while denying that there had been a coup.
“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,” Klitschko said.
Even Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions seems to have given up issuing a statement blaming Yanukovich and his entourage for the crisis.
The ascendant leadership has promised economic reform and closer ties to the EU, with Tymoshenko telling a crowd in Kiev’s Independence Square on Saturday night that she expected to join the bloc. Yet although she was cheered as she spoke from a wheelchair, she called the defenders of the square “heroes,” her reception was mixed — a mark of disappointment with her time in government.