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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."

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Jim and Sandy February 28 2014 at 6:02 PM

Two thousand Russian troops have been sent to the Ukraine. I can't wait to see the "grave" consequences our fearless leader, Barry O, will impose in taking on his friend, Putin. Barry O is fine pushing around the American people, because he knows there will be no repercussion. Taking on Putin is another story, because Barry O knows Putin would kick his #lack, candy ass so hard he'd be wearing it for a hat.

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tensor2005 February 24 2014 at 6:56 PM

The biggest fools are the Ukrainians who supported this so called liberation. Aside from the hodge-podge of Neo-Nazi fascists, Israeli IDF veterans, CIA agents and other misfits that the 5 billion dollars that the US/EU invested to destabilize the Ukraine can buy, the Ukrainians are the big losers. They will be back in the streets when the EU/US bankers drain dry what is now a very sick economy. The EU offered Ukraine a mere $160 million per year for the next five years yet the bond repayments to the IMF were greater than that. In contrast, Putin offered $15 billion and immediately paid $3 billion. The EU itself is coming apart at the seams. Germany is the only viable economy in the whole damn EU. Just ask Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Italy and others what the EU can do to you, not for you! The EU/US are victims of the same people that Russia recently arrested and chased out. They have their very own country to run to. Putin's best move is to re-absorb the Eastern and southern part of the Ukraine, originally part of Russia that has the best of the industrial/resource base and let the Neo-fascists/Ultra nationalists have the west for now to stew in their own excrement. Once they see what’s waiting for them with the Ultra corrupt EU, maybe they will come back to their senses.
The NWO (Rothschild’s, Warburgs, Schiffs, etc.) banking guys that control the EU/USA are prepared to brutally suppress any similar uprisings in the US or Western Europe. Homeland security is being armed to the teeth to put down any revolt following an economic collapse. Armored vehicles and billions of rounds of hollow point rounds have been purchased for their private army , FEMA imprisonment camps are waiting. Unlike the restrained police in the Ukraine , who tolerated the fire bombing and stone throwing by the terrorist thugs, The paramilitary Homeland security forces will shoot down American Patriots mercilessly.

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lnl80388 February 24 2014 at 3:26 PM

Obama giving a stern warning to Putin, that's laughable!
Like a fly threatening to whip an elephants butt. What a joke.
The Russians ( Putin) have absolutely no respect for Obama.
The Russians will make sure they stay in control of the Ukraine thru elections.
Obama with more do nothing face time waiting for his next vacation.
But you voted for him so now you can live with him.

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Asphodyl February 24 2014 at 2:30 PM

The article is so wrong! She did not assume any presidential powers, moreover, although most Ukrainians were happy she was released, she is not welcome back into Ukrainian politics. Most people realize that she was among those who created and benefited from the system, and they are against her taking ANY position in politics. perhaps purely ceremonial, and that's it

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sawsally15 February 24 2014 at 12:37 PM

Out with the old and in with the new is not always beneficial. The UK is steeped in old tradition, trade is the UK's way out but it will be based upon conditions - get rid of Yanukovych, adopt new policies, run the country as EU and US advises.

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brett February 24 2014 at 12:37 PM

i have no experience in economics of this size and proportion , and ukraine is definately in need of financial and civil help . It would be a excellent chance for the euro countries to assist in this transition , and i wonder what future role russia has planned for ukraines immediate . i hope ukraine citizans can agree on some form of government as soon as possible without a russian or usa dictating , although i feel there are not much options choice for people in ukraine at this moment . i tend to agree with post ibiplbg s comments and view . if there ias to be a new government voted in by majority of people the new government will have 148 hours of work in a 40 hour week

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Pearl February 24 2014 at 12:28 PM

ONE VERY BIG THING IN PUTIN'S favor, is his love for his country and his denouncement of the Sheri law by the Moslem population, in Russia, per PUTIN, if f you come here to live, speak Russian, obey our Russian laws, and leave your beliefs back in your state. Three cheers on that score for Putin.

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nnegorev February 24 2014 at 3:02 PM

So he's a Great Russian nationalist. How, exactly, does that inspire this country?

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luvdiving February 24 2014 at 12:23 PM

Obama should threaten to have an investigation and hold people accountable! That'll make Putin sweat!!

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James M. Adams February 24 2014 at 12:20 PM

Usually the fist bump makes everything alright.

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carp940 February 24 2014 at 12:04 PM

Watch me make all those Chicken Hawk Republitards ,and Bat Sh!t TeaBaggers Heads Explode, ONLY 958 DAYS TILL PRES. HILLARY!!!!!

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indycoltsfan38 February 24 2014 at 12:07 PM

And people wonder why I'm an independent voter!

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nnegorev February 24 2014 at 3:03 PM

The spectacle is uninspiring, isn't it?

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