Ukraine’s president resigns; barred from fleeing to Russia

Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko freed, setting up a possible run for the presidency in May
Ukraine’s president resigns; barred from fleeing to Russia

KIEV: Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych resigned on Saturday afternoon, leaving opposition relieved.
Ukraine’s parliamentary speaker was quoted on Saturday as saying President Viktor Yanukovich had tried to board a plane to Russia but had been prevented from doing so and was now in the Donetsk region.
“He tried to get on a plane to Russia but border officials stopped him,” Interfax news agency quoted Oleksander Turchynov, an opponent of Yanukovich, as saying.
Separately, Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was freed on Saturday during the dramatic ouster of her arch enemy Viktor Yanukovich, setting up a possible run for the presidency in May.
Sporting her distinctive blonde braid, the 53-year-old former prime minister was driven out of the hospital in the northeastern city of Kharkiv where she had spent much of her confinement since 2011.
She waved to supporters, who chanted “Yulia, Yulia!”
“Our homeland will from today on be able to see the sun and sky as a dictatorship has ended,” she told reporters.
Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party said she would go to Kiev’s Independence Square, scene of nearly three months of protests against Yanukovich after he spurned a deal on closer ties with the European Union in favour of former Soviet master Moscow.
Seventy-seven people were killed in two days of carnage on and around the square this week.
The EU brokered a peace deal on Friday, calling for an election by year-end, but protesters made clear they wanted Yanukovich out immediately.
In a day of high drama, parliament voted to remove Yanukovich from office and set an election for May 25, after the president fled the capital and abandoned his offices and residence to protesters.
Regretting the deaths of anti-Yanukovich protesters in gun battles and clashes with police, Tymoshenko said everything must be done so that “each drop of blood was not spilled in vain”.
Tymoshenko was jailed in 2011 for abuse of office over a gas deal with Russia but her supporters and Western leaders regarded her as a political prisoner.
A fiery orator, Tymoshenko shot to fame during the 2004-5 Orange Revolution that overturned a rigged election won by Yanukovich. She became prime minister, but was forced out after Yanukovich beat her to the presidency in 2010.
An economy facing default, a splintered opposition and regions with separatist tendencies, Ukraine’s new government will face an uphill struggle to stabilise the country.
Repairing the scarred centre of Kiev will be a costly affair but even without that, debt-laden Ukraine risks a devastating default unless it receives financial assistance - and fast.
The three-month crisis has prompted panic on the markets, with short-and long-term bond yields rising sharply and the hryvnia currency losing a tenth of its value in a span of a few weeks.
There is also uncertainty over whether Moscow will keep paying out a $15-billion bailout it promised to Kiev shortly after Yanukovych rejected an EU trade deal in November in favour of closer ties with Russia, a move that angered pro-EU parts of the population and kickstarted the unrest.
Russia has so far paid out a $3.0-billion instalment but suspended another tranche pending a return to calm.
Standard & Poor’s ratings agency predicted on Friday that if Russia scrapped the bailout, Ukraine would default on the $13 billion of debt it is due to pay back this year.
And while the European Union has said it stands ready to extend conditional financial assistance to Ukraine, its own member states are already struggling.

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