Ukraine parliament pushes back deadline to form new government

Published February 25, 2014

| FoxNews.com

Ukraine's interim leaders pushed back their self-imposed deadline to form a unity government Tuesday, while the whereabouts of the country's fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, remained unknown. 

Members of the Ukrainian parliament had set a Tuesday deadline to form a unity government. However, parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchinov, the leader of the interim government, announced that the deadline would be pushed back to Thursday.

On Monday, interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakhov issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovych on charges of orchestrating the murder of civilians during last week's mass protests in the capital, Kiev. At least 82 people died in clashes between anti-Yanukovych protesters and members of the security forces. 

Turchinov is now nominally in charge of this strategic country of 46 million whose ailing economy faces the risk of default and whose loyalties are sharply torn between Europe and longtime ruler Russia.

Yanukovych's former chief of staff was wounded by gunfire and hospitalized on Monday, his spokesman told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Artem Petrenko also confirmed that Klyuyev resigned his post a day before the shooting. Klyuyev was among the figures most despised by protesters in Ukraine's three-month political turmoil.

For months, thousands of people have been protesting against Yanukovych's decision to ditch an agreement for closer ties with the European Union and turn to Russia instead.

The parliament sacked some of Yanukovych's lieutenants and named their replacement, but it has yet to appoint the new premier and fill all remaining government posts. Yanukovych's whereabouts are unknown. He was last reportedly seen in the Crimea, a pro-Russia area.

The European Union's top foreign policy official urged Ukraine's new government to work out a reform program so that the West could consider financial aid to the country's battered economy.

Catherine Ashton spoke on Tuesday after meeting with the leaders of Ukraine's interim authorities formed after Yanukvoych fled the capital.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a top figure in the protests, suggested that Yanukvoych should be tried in the Hague, Netherlands.

Protesters, meanwhile, removed a Soviet star from the top of the Ukrainian parliament building, the Verkhovna Rada. "The star on top of the Verkhovna Rada is no longer there," said Oleh Tyahnybok, head of the nationalist Svoboda party, which has been a strong force in the protest movement.

Meanwhile, a campaign for May 25 presidential elections was launched Tuesday, with Yanukovych's archrival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, widely seen as a top contender for the post. She was freed from prison on Saturday after spending 2 1/2 years behind bars. Her lawyer said, however, that she hasn't yet declared whether to run.

Turchinov moved quickly to open a dialogue with the West, saying at a meeting with Ashton on Monday that the course toward closer integration with Europe and financial assistance from the EU were "key factors of stable and democratic development of Ukraine."

Turchinov told Ashton on Monday that Ukraine and the EU should immediately revisit the closer ties that Yanukovych abandoned in November in favor of a $15 billion bailout loan from Russia that set off a wave of protests. Within weeks, the protests expanded to include outrage over corruption and human rights abuses, leading to calls for Yanukovych's resignation.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has strongly condemned the new authorities, saying Monday they came to power as a result of an "armed mutiny" and their legitimacy is causing "big doubts." "If you consider Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks who are roaming Kiev to be the government, then it will be hard for us to work with that government," Medvedev said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the West for turning a blind eye to what Moscow described as the opposition reneging on an agreement signed Friday to form a unity government and aiming to "suppress dissent in various regions of Ukraine with dictatorial and, sometimes, even terrorist methods."

Although Russia has questioned the interim authorities' legitimacy, European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly referred to Turchinov as the "interim president."

NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, Gen. Philip Breedlove, discussed Ukraine with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia's armed forces, on Monday and they agreed to keep each other informed about developments in the country.

Tensions, meanwhile, have been mounting in Crimea in southern Ukraine. Russia maintains a large naval base in Sevastopol that has strained relations between the countries for two decades. Pro-Russian protesters gathered in front of city hall in the port of Sevastopol on Monday chanting "Russia! Russia!"

The head of the city administration in Sevastopol quit Monday amid the turmoil, and protesters replaced a Ukrainian flag near the city hall building with a Russian flag.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's position on the turmoil in Ukraine will be crucial to the future of Crimea and Ukraine. In recent days, Putin has spoken to President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders to discuss the Ukrainian crisis.

On Tuesday, Putin summoned top security officials to discuss the situation in Ukraine, but no details of the meeting were released by the Kremlin.

Early Tuesday, the Ukrainian Central Election Commission posted an election calendar online, which gives candidates until April 4 to register to campaign for snap presidential elections, which are due to be held May 25. Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted the commission chief saying that he didn't foresee any legal obstacles for any of the candidates currently being discussed, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was released from prison shortly after Yanukovych was impeached by parliament Saturday.

The parliament has sacked some of Yanukovych's lieutenants and named their replacement, but it has yet to appoint the new premier and fill all posts. 

Complicating affairs in the wake of last week's dramatic events is Ukraine's fragile economic situation. The interim government has said that $35 million is required to avoid defaulting on government debts. Sky News reported that Secretary of State John Kerry was due to meet with his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary William Hague, later Tuesday to discuss emergency support for Ukraine. Sky News also reported that U.S. officials were due to meet with political and business leaders in Ukraine over the next few days. 

Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev questioned the authority of the interim government in Kiev, describing the unstable situation as "a real threat to [Russian] interests and to the lives of [Russian] citizens.

"There are big doubts about the legitimacy of a whole series of organs of power that are now functioning here," Medvedev added. "It seems to me it is an aberration to call legitimate what is essentially the result of an armed mutiny. Strictly speaking, there is no one for us to communicate with there today."

On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the U.S. and Europe not to force Ukraine to choose between close ties between Russia or the West, saying that such deep involvement was "dangerous and counterproductive," according to Reuters. 

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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