Tymoshenko says she is not considering bid for power

European Commission ‘ready’ for trade deal with Ukraine when new government is formed


Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, freed from prison guard yesterday after her arch-rival president Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev, said today she did not want to be considered for the post of prime minister.

Earlier, her supporters in parliament said she was one of the three favourites to be named to head a government of national unity.

“It was a surprise for me when I heard that I was being proposed for the post of prime minister. Nobody agreed this with me or discussed it with me.

“I am grateful for the respect this shows, but I ask not to be considered for this post,” she said in comments on her website.

The speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, the closest confidante of Ms Tymoshenko, has been temporarily handed the role of president today following the ousting of Mr Yanukovich.

Mr Yanukovich abandoned the capital yesterday, heading to his native east where he denounced what he called a “coup d’etat”.

Parliament today voted to give Oleksander Turchinov, elected speaker yesterday, Mr Yanukovich’s duties as president.

A presidential election has been set for May 25th.

The European Commission said today it was ready to conclude a trade deal with Ukraine once a new government was formed, and that it believed such a deal was in both parties’ interests and would be signed.

Ukraine’s crisis began last year when president Yanukovich turned away from a proposed European Union trade deal in favour of closer ties with Russia, which promised to lend Kiev $15 billion and reduce the price of gas.

“I believe that yes, they (the Ukrainians) are going to sign that deal,” EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht told Sky News today in a television interview. “I don’t know when. First we need a government for that, and it has to take a democratic decision and it has to be in a stable situation.”

Also today, EU Economic and Monetary Affairs commissioner Olli Rehn said the EU was ready to offer substantial aid to Ukraine. Like Mr De Gucht, he said having a stable government was a prerequisite. Neither proposal was linked to the other.

President’s whereabouts ‘still unknown’

Ukraine’s parliament yesterday voted to remove Mr Yanukovich, while his arch-rival Ms Tymoshenko hailed opposition demonstrators as “heroes” in an emotional speech in Kiev after she was released from jail.

Mr Yanukovich abandoned the capital to the opposition yesterday and denounced what he described as a coup after several days of bloodshed this week that claimed 82 lives.

His precise whereabouts today were still unknown. But residents in the eastern town of Donetsk, his stronghold, said that security had been reinforced along the main approach road to his private home in the town, suggesting he might be there.

Supporters cheered former prime minister Tymoshenko as she left the hospital where she had been held. When she spoke later in Kiev, her reception was mixed.

Her release marks a radical transformation in the former Soviet republic of 46 million people. Removal of the pro-Russian Yanukovich should pull Ukraine away from Moscow’s orbit and closer to Europe.

It is also a reversal for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s dream of recreating as much as possible of the Soviet Union in a new Eurasian Union. Moscow had counted on Mr Yanukovich to deliver Ukraine as a central member.

Members of the Ukrainian parliament, who abandoned Mr Yanukovich after this week’s bloodshed, applauded and sang the national anthem after declaring him constitutionally unable to carry out his duties.

“This is a political knockout,” opposition leader and retired world boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko told reporters.

In a television interview the station said was conducted in the eastern city of Kharkiv, Mr Yanukovich said he would not resign or leave the country, and called decisions by parliament “illegal”.

“The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d’etat,” he said, comparing it to the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in the 1930s.

The 63-year-old Yanukovich, who looked pale and tired, said he would not sign any draft laws passed by the parliament into force. “I will not sign anything with bandits who terrorise the country,” he said.

Interfax news agency said border guards refused to let Mr Yanukovich exit the country when he tried to take an unscheduled charter flight from Donetsk and he was eventually driven away by his own security guards.

“We have a legitimate, living president. We just don’t know where he is,” Oleh Tsaryov, a member of Yanukovich’s Party of regions, said grimly on Russian television.

Secret estate

At Mr Yanukovich’s abandoned secret estate a short distance from Kiev, people flocked to take photographs of his private zoo with ostriches and deer, replica ancient Greek ruins, and lavish waterways and follies.

Despite Mr Yanukovich’s defiance, the dismantling of his authority seemed all but complete. His cabinet promised a transition to a new government, the police declared themselves behind the protesters and his arch-rival Ms Tymoshenko went free.

Ms Tymoshenko, with her trademark braided hair, waved to supporters from a car as she was driven out of the hospital in Kharkiv, where she has been treated for a bad back while serving a seven-year sentence since 2011.

Setting herself immediately on a collision course with Moscow, Ms Tymoshenko said she was sure her country would join the European Union in the near future.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said “illegal extremist groups were refusing to disarm and in fact are taking Kiev under their control with the connivance of opposition leaders”.

The White House said Washington was keen to see the country build a new government and hold early elections and welcomed Ms Tymoshenko’s release.

Thousands of opposition supporters stayed on Kiev’s Independence Square, scene of nearly three months of protests, overnight singing patriotic songs and musing on the rollercoaster events.

Earlier, coffins - some of them open showing the victim face up - were displayed in front of the crowd as priests said prayers. People crossed themselves in front of makeshift shrines with candles and pictures of the dead. Two captured water cannon trucks were parked in the square, like trophies of war.

Carried on to a stage in a wheelchair, an emotional and tired-looking Ms Tymoshenko told the protesters on the square, known as the Maidan: “You have no right to leave the Maidan ... Don’t stop yet.”

Fiery oratory

Showing glimpses of the fiery oratory that drove her to power, Ms Tymoshenko shouted: “This is a Ukraine of different people. The ones who died on Maidan are our liberators, our heroes for centuries.”

The response was mixed. Ms Tymoshenko is a divisive figure in Ukraine, where many have become disillusioned with a political class they see as corrupt and elitist.

Small pockets of the crowd clapped and sang Ms Tymoshenko’s name, but the chants did not catch on. Whistles could be heard. Others listened silently.

Elsewhere in the country large-scale fighting broke out when “EuroMaidan” activists were attacked by a pro-Yanukovich group, but the new provisional interior minister, Arsen Avakov, was later quoted as saying the situation was under control. TV reported clashes too in the Black Sea port of Kerch.

Earlier, the Ukrainian cabinet said it was committed to a responsible transfer of power. Military and police leaders said they would not get involved in any internal conflict.

Mr Yanukovich enraged much of the population by turning away from the European Union to cultivate closer relations with Russia three months ago. On Friday, he made sweeping concessions in a deal brokered by European diplomats after days of street battles during which police snipers gunned down protesters.

But the deal, which called for early elections by the end of the year, was not enough to satisfy pro-Europe demonstrators on Independence Square. They wanted Mr Yanukovich out immediately in the wake of the bloodletting.

The release of Ms Tymoshenko transforms Ukraine by giving the opposition a single leader who may become president, although Klitschko and others also have claims.

Ms Tymoshenko (53) was jailed by a court under Mr Yanukovich over a natural gas deal with Russia she arranged while serving as premier before he took office. The EU had long considered her a political prisoner, and her freedom was one of the main demands it had for closer ties with Ukraine during years of negotiations that ended when Mr Yanukovich turned towards Moscow in November.

She had served as a leader of the “Orange Revolution” of mass demonstrations that overturned a fraudulent election victory for Mr Yanukovich in 2004, but after a divisive term as prime minister she lost to him in an election in 2010.


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