Yushchenko inauguration gets go-ahead from Ukraine parliament
KIEV, Ukraine -- Viktor Yushchenko will be sworn in Sunday as president of Ukraine, completing his "Orange Revolution" after weeks of political turmoil in which he defeated the Kremlin-backed candidate at the polls and survived a mysterious poisoning plot.
Lawmakers on Thursday hurriedly scheduled the inauguration in a decision that came hours after Yushchenko cleared the last of a series of legal obstacles that had arisen since the Dec. 26 election, including an appeal filed in the Supreme Court by loser Viktor Yanukovych.
Yanukovych, the former prime minister, had been supported by the Kremlin over Yushchenko, who aims to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union and NATO. But Russian President Vladimir Putin issued quick congratulations to Yushchenko, whose team said he would make a working visit to Moscow on Monday.
On state television, Yanukovych predicted Yushchenko would be unable to maintain good relations with Russia and he declared he would stay in politics to lead the opposition.
"I'll do everything I can to restore justice," he said. "The 'orange nightmare' will not last long."
The huge pro-Yushchenko demonstrations in Kiev, with many people wearing his orange campaign colors, arose after the Nov. 21 election in which Yanukovych was declared the winner. The Supreme Court annulled that result because of widespread fraud, and Yushchenko won the Dec. 26 court-ordered rerun balloting by about 8 percentage points.
As Yanukovych's chances of overturning the results appeared to weaken in recent days, his supporters set up tent camps in several cities in eastern Ukraine, echoes of the once-enormous pro-Yushchenko camp in downtown Kiev.
Yanukovych on Thursday called for the camps to be taken down. But state television broadcasts from several of the cities indicated that crowds of his supporters were sizable, underlining the polarization Yushchenko faces as president.
Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma also congratulated Yushchenko, according to his office. Kuchma, whose decade in power was marked by allegations of corruption and pressure against opposition forces and journalists, had favored Yanukovych as his successor.
During the campaign, Yushchenko was poisoned with a nearly lethal amount of dioxin that scarred his face and left him with gastrointestinal pain and a severe backache. He blamed the government; it denied involvement. Doctors have said they expect a gradual recovery, although they fear an increased long-term risk of a heart attack, cancer or other chronic diseases.
Yushchenko's spokeswoman Irina Herashenko said the visit to Moscow would be followed a day later by a trip to Strasbourg, France, to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He plans to speak at the European Parliament on Jan. 27. The Western European swing will also take Yushchenko to the international economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Details of the inauguration program were still being worked out, and the Foreign Ministry was sending last-minute invitations to heads of state. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will attend in one of his last official acts. Among other dignitaries on hand will be NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher congratulated the Ukrainian people for their courage in "standing up for their democratic rights," a reference to the pro-democracy protests that facilitated Yushchenko's rise to power.
"The United States stands ready to strengthen its cooperation with Ukraine and looks forward to working closely with Ukraine's new president," Boucher said.
Workers draped bright orange decorations on the columns of a concert hall adjacent to Independence Square, site of the huge demonstrations by Yushchenko's supporters.
The inauguration is to begin with Yushchenko taking the oath of office in parliament, followed by a military ceremony at Mariinsky Palace, the ornate building housing the ceremonial offices of the president. Yushchenko will then speak at Independence Square.
Before dawn Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal of last month's election by Yanukovych, saying there was insufficient evidence to support his claim that millions of citizens were disenfranchised by last-minute election-law reforms canceling the use of absentee ballots.
Shortly before the decision was announced, government newspapers printed the results of the Dec. 26 election, opening the way for parliament to schedule the inauguration, and 309 of 450 deputies voted to hold the ceremony on Sunday.
"The inauguration is set for noon, Sunday, Jan. 23," parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said as dozens of pro-Yushchenko deputies applauded.
Acting Prime Minister Mykola Azarov announced that the government would offer its resignation immediately after the inauguration, the Interfax news agency reported. Yushchenko will appoint a new government, though Azarov will remain as caretaker until the new government is appointed.
Yanukovych representative Nestor Shufrich said an appeal would be launched at the European Court of Human Rights, an attempt to undermine Yushchenko's standing among the countries he aims to court for integration into the European Union.
Yushchenko's camp dismissed such threats. Ukraine, under Yushchenko, "will show what real democracy means," aide Petro Poroshenko declared.