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Freed opposition leader granted Presidential powers in Ukraine

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko takes power in Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - A top Ukrainian opposition figure assumed presidential powers Sunday, plunging Ukraine into new uncertainty after a deadly political standoff - and boosting long-jailed Yulia Tymoshenko's chances of a return to power.

The whereabouts and legitimacy of President Viktor Yanukovych are unclear after he left the capital for his support base in eastern Ukraine. Allies are deserting him one by one, even as a presidential aide told The Associated Press on Sunday that he's hanging on to his presidential duties.

The newly emboldened parliament, now dominated by the opposition, struggled Sunday to work out who is in charge of the country and its ailing economy. Fears percolated that some regions such as the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea might try to break away. Three months of political crisis have left scores of people dead in a country of strategic importance to the United States, European nations and Russia.

Ukraine is deeply divided between eastern regions that are largely pro-Russian and western areas that widely detest Yanukovych and long for closer ties with the European Union.

Yanukovych set off a wave of protests by shelving an agreement with the EU in November, and the movement quickly expanded its grievances to corruption, human rights abuses and calls for Yanukovych's resignation.

The Kiev protest camp at the center of the anti-Yanukovych movement filled with more and more dedicated demonstrators Sunday, setting up new tents after two days that saw a stunning reversal of fortune in the political crisis.

"We need to catch and punish those with blood on their hands," said Artyom Zhilyansky, a 45-year-old engineer on Independence Square on Sunday, referring to those killed in clashes with police last week.

Tymoshenko, the blond-braided and controversial heroine of Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, increasingly appears to have the upper hand in the political battle, winning the backing Sunday of a leading Russian lawmaker and congratulations from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. senators on her release.

Tymoshenko's name circulated Sunday as a possibility for acting prime minister pending May 25 presidential elections, but she issued a statement Sunday asking her supporters not to nominate her.

She may want to focus her energies instead on campaigning for president and building up strength after her imprisonment. She spoke to an excited crowd of 50,000 in central Kiev Saturday night from a wheelchair because of a back problem aggravated during imprisonment, her voice cracked and her face careworn.

A spokeswoman for Tymoshenko, Marina Soroka, said Sunday it's too early to talk about a presidential run. Tymoshenko met with several foreign diplomats Sunday, then headed to visit her mother and will return to work after that.

Susan Rice, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during a telephone conversation Friday that a political settlement in Kiev should ensure the country's unity and personal freedoms.

But Rice also said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that it would be a "grave mistake" for Russia to intervene militarily in Ukraine.

European diplomats helped negotiate a short-lived peace deal last week and the chief EU diplomat is coming to Kiev on Monday.

Russia's position will be important for the future of this country because the two have deep and complicated ties. Moscow in December offered Ukraine a $15 billion bailout, but so far has provided only $3 billion, freezing further disbursements pending the outcome of the ongoing political crisis.

The Kremlin has been largely silent about whether it still supports Yanukovych. Putin, who is presiding over the close of the Sochi Olympics, has not spoken about recent events in Kiev. He had developed a productive working relationship with Tymoshenko when she was Ukraine's prime minister.

Russian legislator Leonid Slutsky said Sunday that naming Tymoshenko prime minister "would be useful for stabilizing" tensions in Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies.

Russia's finance minister on Sunday urged Ukraine to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund to avoid an imminent default.

Tensions mounted in Crimea, where pro-Russian politicians are organizing rallies and forming protest units and have been demanding autonomy from Kiev. Russia maintains a big naval base in Crimea that has tangled relations between the countries for two decades.

A crowd of pro-Russia demonstrators in the Crimean city of Kerch, following a rally Sunday at which speakers called for Crimea's secession, marched toward city hall chanting "Russia! Russia!" and tore down the Ukrainian flag. Marchers scuffled with the mayor and police officers who tried but failed to stop the crowd from hoisting a Russian flag in its place.

The political crisis in this nation of 46 million has changed with blinding speed repeatedly in the past week.

The parliament, in a special session Sunday, voted overwhelmingly to temporarily hand the president's powers to speaker Oleksandr Turchinov. He is one of Tymoshenko's most loyal allies, who stuck with her even as others deserted her in her roller coaster political career.

Tymoshenko is a divisive political survivor who drew criticism even as masses cheered her from the protest camp. Posters appeared Sunday equating her with Yanukovych, reading "people didn't die for this."

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko warned that getting the country under control won't be easy, and hinted at possible turmoil to come.

"If new government falls short of expectations, people can come out and sweep them out of office," he told journalists in parliament.

The legitimacy of the parliament's flurry of decisions in recent days is under question. The votes are based on a decision Friday to return to a 10-year-old constitution that grants parliament greater powers. Yanukovych has not signed that decision into law, and he said Saturday that the parliament is now acting illegally.

However, legal experts said that de facto the parliament is now in charge.

Presidential aide Hanna Herman told The Associated Press on Sunday that Yanukovych was in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv as of Saturday night and plans to stay in power. Still, Herman sought to distance herself from him Sunday.

So did members of his party, apparently seeking to save their political hides in a country suddenly in the hands of a pro-Western parliament.

The mayor of the eastern city of Kharkiv, Hennadiy Kernes, described Yanukovych on Sunday as "history." A day after defending the president, the mayor said on Ukrainian television, "The country has no president."

Ukrainians' loyalties remain divided.

Protesters smashed portraits of Yanukovych and took down statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin in several towns and cities. On Sunday, some pro-Russian protesters took up positions to defend Lenin statues in Donetsk and Kharkiv. Statues of Lenin across the former U.S.S.R. are seen as a symbol of Moscow's rule.

The past week has seen the worst violence in Ukraine since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago - 82 dead according to the Health Ministry, more than 100 according to protesters.

Thousands of Ukrainians flocked to the Kiev protest camp known as the Maidan to pay their last respects to the scores killed in clashes with police, bearing flowers and lighting candles while Cossacks beat drums.

Nadezhda Kovalchuk, a 58-year-old food worker on the square, said they died "so that we would be free, for our freedom, so that we, our children and grandchildren would live well."

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
crarlen February 23 2014 at 4:55 PM

The title of the article bears no resemblance to reality. She hasn't been granted any powers.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
2 replies
Jerry Berrios crarlen February 23 2014 at 4:58 PM

Yes, I was confused also.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
tugboy101 crarlen February 24 2014 at 12:19 AM

just wait a months or two

Flag Reply 0 rate up
just1different February 23 2014 at 5:31 PM

I am sick off looking at the job spam at every story I read .. WTF ?? Edit it out !!!

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
nnegorev just1different February 23 2014 at 5:36 PM

I agree, but apparently the censors have taken the weekend off.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
madkono February 23 2014 at 9:50 PM

the world shakes as "red line" bama speaks!!! that's "shakes", as in laughter!!!

Flag Reply +7 rate up
1 reply
zenospeed1 madkono February 23 2014 at 10:09 PM

It shakes more than when you speak ,lol. The Circus must have closed down early. Looks like the clowns , oops, Republiclowns are on the lose ,lol.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
2 replies
joper201 zenospeed1 February 23 2014 at 10:34 PM

Do you have anything remotely resembling a original thought???

Flag +3 rate up
tofjr zenospeed1 February 23 2014 at 11:38 PM

Typical lib troll...........................

Flag 0 rate up
lemko2 February 23 2014 at 9:50 PM

Tymoshenko for president? So Ukrainian people have no rights to elect their leaders?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
madkono lemko2 February 23 2014 at 9:53 PM

in may!!!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
My Lord February 23 2014 at 5:34 PM

Yep... Russia....never a peaceful people but then, Every single person in the world should take exampl from those ukraine people for ousting their crappy goverments you ask me the entire world should do the same, Polticians goverments are all corrupt for they feel that only the rich and the greedy should rule and have control over everything. time for a real change

Flag Reply +2 rate up
kensucharski February 23 2014 at 9:45 PM

Russia will do nothing, they have no money for a drawn out tangle with the EU, or US.
Even Putin's cronies have condoned Yanukovych leaving.
EU will allow unfeathered travel - Good for personal and economic freedom.
I wonder how much money Yanukovych took with him.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
karljfs kensucharski February 23 2014 at 10:03 PM

I disagree. This problem is in Russia's kitche an Crimea and parts of the Eastern Ukraine are very vulnerable unless there is strong backing from the West. Unfortunately the EU is a toothless lion and we have Obama as president

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keith3646 February 23 2014 at 5:37 PM

I do remember years ago when the Iron Curtain fell??, and Ukraine chose to continue it's strong relationship with the Soviet Union. It made me wonder then, because this was their chance to have a separate government, and they were happily relinquishing this chance. Now, it seems, it is a different story. It is too bad they did not take action on that earlier chance.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
Kat4Hat keith3646 February 23 2014 at 5:46 PM

It happened 20 years ago; what have been achieved so far? not much, just an appearance of a few Ukrainian oligarchs and poverty. And now it is very convenient to blame and demonize Russia for their failures, to set the fire during the Olympic games, and to abuse the word "freedom".

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potmind keith3646 February 23 2014 at 6:04 PM

At the time, when the USSR went bankrupt, Ukraine did not have the political muscle nor industrial reputation to yank off the ball and chain of the Soviet Union-Russia... or whatever you want to call it. They had a chance to escape the USSR in the thirties, but Stalin starved Ukraine, causing some 7 million deaths.

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stephen February 23 2014 at 9:39 PM

threats

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Medco Electric February 23 2014 at 5:49 PM

Today marks a very important date for the Ukrainian people. One step closer in joining the European free nations away from the clutches of the Russians. Ever since Ukraine sought independence from the soviet leader Stalin back in the year of 1932-1933, where he staved the Ukrainians and 7,000,000 people perished, which was by the way more died there then the holocaust, are now closer to being intendant and free! I support and I'm sure many Americans do too, there fighting and struggles to be finally free. I am praying for them!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
Kat4Hat Medco Electric February 23 2014 at 5:57 PM

I guess you know that communism does not have nationality; it has ideology.
The "Russians" who brought the revolution in 1917 mostly were Jewish, Stalin was Georgian, Kruschev was Ukrainian, Breznev was Ukrainian, Gorbachev is Ukrainian, and only Eltsin and Putin are Russians ethnically.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
asia742 February 23 2014 at 5:31 PM

Egypt, Ukraine - people are sick and tired of politicians making promises and then doing the exact opposite once they get into office. This will happen more and more around the world. Don't be surprised when it happens in your own backyard.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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