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Yanukovich sworn in as president of deeply divided nation

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-02-25

Following a bitterly-fought and contested election against his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, Viktor Yanukovich took the oath of office as Ukraine’s president on Thursday.

AFP - Viktor Yanukovych was sworn in as Ukraine's new president Thursday, vowing to follow a path of neutrality in a switch from the strongly pro-Western stance of the defeated Orange Revolution leaders.
   
Yanukovych took his oath in a ceremony in parliament attended by a host of international dignitaries but conspicuously boycotted by his election rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and her supporters.
   
"I, Viktor Yanukovych, elected president of Ukraine by the will of the people, swear the oath of loyalty to Ukraine," he said, placing his right hand on a 16th-century Ukrainian-language gospel and a copy of the constitution.
   
"I vow to defend through my actions the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine and the rights and freedoms of its citizens," he said.
   
Yanukovych is expected to return his country of 46 million bridging Russia and the European Union to a more Moscow-friendly course, a reversal of the policies of his predecesssor Viktor Yushchenko.
   
In an immediate statement of his foreign policy priorities, Yanukovych indicated he would not seek membership in NATO -- a major goal of the Yushchenko presidency -- or Russian-led military alliances.
   
"The challenges that the international community face mean we have to join together in a larger format. We are ready to participate in this process as a European, non-aligned state," he said.
   
He described Ukraine as a "bridge between East and West" and said it would have relations as equal partners with the European Union, Russia and the United States.
   
In a bid to prove he does not want to abandon EU integration, Yanukovych has chosen the European Union's headquarters in Brussels for his first foreign trip on Monday before heading to Moscow.
   
International officials attending the inauguration included EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, US national security advisor James Jones and speaker of the Russian parliament Boris Gryzlov.
   
But rows of empty benches in the parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, signalled the absence of Tymoshenko and her party and showed that Ukraine remains far from much-needed political stability.
   
Yanukovych has called on Tymoshenko to resign gracefully after her defeat by a margin of some 3.5 percent in the February 7 presidential elections, but the charismatic prime minister has so far refused to budge, claiming to have sufficient support in parliament.
   
She has refused to recognise Yanukovych as president and alleged the elections were marred by widespread fraud, even though they were praised by international observers.
   
Also absent were Yushchenko and Ukraine's first post-independence president Leonid Kravchuk, who has rarely shown much enthusiasam for Yanukovych. Of all Ukraine's past presidents, only the 1994-2005 ruler Leonid Kuchma was present.
   
Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were leaders of the Orange Revolution of 2004 that initially raised hopes of reform and prosperity, but ultimately disappointed its supporters.
   
The new president must mend an economy which contracted by 15 percent last year amid the global economic crisis and heal the scars in a country which remains marked by a bitter east-west divide.
   
Yanukovych draws the bulk of his support from the heavily industrial, Russian-speaking east of Ukraine and in the elections he polled weakly in the more nationalist west and centre of the country.
   
Ahead of the swearing-in ceremony, he was blessed by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in a service at Kiev's Caves monastery, much to the annoyance of Ukrainian nationalists.
   
The president-elect has a controversial past that saw him jailed twice for theft and assault as a youth under the Soviet Union, although the convictions were later erased.
   
He is also accused of involvement in the vote-rigging in the 2004 election that sparked the Orange Revolution. He initially won but the courts ordered the vote to be re-run after they found mass irregularities. In the subsequent vote, Yanukovych lost to Yushchenko.

Date created : 2010-02-25

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