Ukraine begins work on national unity government

In a special session Sunday, Ukraine’s legislature voted to give the speaker of the Ukrainian assembly temporary presidential power. Oleksandr Turchinov is an ally of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was freed from prison Saturday.

The whereabouts of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych remained unclear Sunday, one day after he left Kyiv.

Border guards say a plane intended to take Yanukovych to an unknown destination Saturday was denied permission to take off.

Opposition party leader Vitali Klitschko said Sunday the ousted leader should take full responsibility for the recent deadly violence in Ukraine.

He spoke to reporters as a large crowd of Ukrainians remained in an area of Kyiv that had been the center of deadly protests. The crowd appeared to be awaiting word about what might happen next.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s parliament has been meeting in a special Sunday session in an attempt to start forming a new national unity government.

On Saturday, parliament voted to dismiss President Yanukovych and set early elections for May 25. Parliament also elected a new speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, a longtime Tymoshenko ally. He has temporarily taken over presidential responsibilities. Former speaker and government supporter Volodymyr Rybak resigned.

Ukrainians gave newly-freed former prime minister Tymoshenko a hero’s welcome when she spoke to protesters in Kyiv Saturday, urging them to continue their demonstrations.As part of a deal to end weeks of violence, Tymoshenko was freed from a prison hospital where she had been serving time for abuse of power – a charge her supporters say was political revenge by President Viktor Yanukovych.Yanukovych, who had fled Kyiv for the eastern city of Kharkiv, said parliament’s decisions are illegal. He likened the opposition to Nazis and insisted that he will not resign or leave Ukraine. However, Yanukovych has been left almost powerless. His Cabinet promised to back a new government, the police said it supported the opposition, and the army said it will not get involved.Protests erupted in November when President Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties to Russia. The protests began peacefully but descended into violence. Nearly 100 people were killed, including some protesters shot in the head by police snipers.Ukraine is split between those in the east who favor ties with Russia, and those in the west who lean toward the European Union.Ukrainian protesters took control of President Yanukovych’s offices in Kyiv Saturday. Others let themselves onto the grounds of the president’s lavish but secret estate outside Kyiv, which includes a private zoo, and toured his house. Some say they are stunned that one person could have so much while others in Ukraine have nothing.Tymoshenko was one of the leaders of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution when the Supreme Court threw out the results of an apparently flawed presidential election won by Yanukovych and ordered a new vote.

She became prime minister under the new president, Viktor Yushchenko. After Yanukovych defeated Ms. Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential election, she was put on trial for alleged abuse of power over a natural gas deal with Russia and sentenced to prison.

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(Photos: On February 23, residents of Bulgarian capital city Sofia woke to find that, once again, the controversial communist-era monument to the Soviet military had been redecorated – this time in honour of the protesters who brought about change in Kyiv. Elsewhere, the monument was marked with the word, ‘Kaputin’. Photos: Ivo Bojkov, via Facebook)