- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2005

KIEV — Viktor Yushchenko took his oath of office as Ukraine’s third post-Soviet president yesterday, calling his election a “victory of freedom over tyranny” and vowing the country will find its rightful place in Europe.

Immediately after being sworn in at a ceremony attended by outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, seven heads of former communist countries and low-level Russian dignitaries, Mr. Yushchenko appeared before hundreds of thousands of supporters on Independence Square.

Known as the Maidan, the square was the focal point of massive protests against rigged elections that were overturned late last year, permitting Mr. Yushchenko to win the presidency in the rerun.

“On Independence Square, the Ukrainians manifested themselves as a modern Ukrainian nation,” Mr. Yushchenko told cheering supporters on a bitterly cold but sunny day. “This is a victory of freedom over tyranny. The victory of law over lawlessness, the future over the past.”

In a day filled with pomp and symbolism, much of the square was draped in orange, Mr. Yushchenko’s campaign color. For his address, the new president stood before a large orange flag hung from the rotunda of Independence Monument.

“Our way to the future is the way of a united Europe,” Mr. Yushchenko said. “We, along with the people of Europe, belong to one civilization. We share similar values.”

He stressed, however, that Ukraine would forge its own path.

“Ukraine will not be a buffer zone or a testing ground for anyone else,” he said, his face still bearing pockmarks from pre-election dioxin poisoning that he blamed on his political enemies.

“We are prepared to respect the interests of other states. But for me and for you, national interests are above all else,” he said.

Mr. Yushchenko promised to reverse years of corruption and poverty and to safeguard freedom of speech and the rights of all citizens.

In a conciliatory symbol, the ceremony ended with a shower of confetti in both orange and the blue-and-white campaign colors of his election rival, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Shortly before his inauguration, Mr. Yushchenko met with Mr. Powell, who appeared at the ceremony in what was most likely his last official act as secretary of state. Mr. Powell conveyed an invitation from President Bush for Mr. Yushchenko to visit Washington.

Mr. Bush, who in his own inauguration last week made the spread of democracy the centerpiece of his foreign policy, had congratulated Mr. Yushchenko on “democracy’s victory” in a telephone conversation on Saturday, White House spokesman Brian Besanceney said.

“The two leaders also discussed their support for the people of Iraq and for democracy in that country,” Mr. Besanceney said.

Mr. Yushchenko is expected to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney in Poland this week when the two attend the 60th anniversary of the Soviet army’s liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where the Ukrainian leader’s father was interned as a soldier. The timing of a visit to Washington may be discussed during the meeting.

“I want to assure you that you will continue to enjoy the full support of the American government and the American people as you move forward to undertake the efforts that the Ukrainian people are expecting,” Mr. Powell told Mr. Yushchenko yesterday.

A point of contention, however, could be Ukraine’s role in Iraq. Both Mr. Yushchenko and his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma, have called for Ukraine’s 1,650 troops to return from Iraq this year.

Mr. Yushchenko is scheduled to begin a week of travels today when he visits Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Yushchenko had promised his first official visit would be to Russia.

Relations between Mr. Yushchenko’s campaign and Mr. Putin have been strained since the latter publicly supported Mr. Yanukovych for president.

Mr. Yushchenko did not mention Russia in his address, but sources close to him have said he wants to put the past behind him and develop a relationship with Moscow on an equal footing.

Mr. Yushchenko this week also will visit the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

Mr. Kuchma, whose 10 years in office were marked by charges of corruption and wrongdoing — and his predecessor, Leonid Kravchuk, also attended the inauguration.

Mr. Yanukovych, whose court challenge to the election’s result had delayed the inauguration, did not appear. Representatives said he had left Ukraine for an unknown destination by the time his invitation arrived.

More than 40 nations were represented at the inauguration. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Georgian Parliament Speaker Nino Burdzhanadze and Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski were among those in attendance.

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