- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s new authorities navigated tricky political waters Tuesday, launching a new presidential campaign, working on a new government and trying to seek immediate financial help from the West.

Yet protests in the country’s pro-Russian region of Crimea and the shooting of a top aide to fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych — a man despised by protesters — have raised fears of divisions and retaliation.

Andriy Klyuyev, the chief of staff for Yanukovych until this weekend, was wounded by gunfire Monday and hospitalized, spokesman Artem Petrenko told The Associated Press on Tuesday. It wasn’t clear where in Ukraine the shooting took place.

At the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev, lawmakers delayed the formation of a new government until Thursday, reflecting the political tensions and economic challenges the country faces after Yanukovych fled the capital and went into hiding.

Parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchinov, who was named Ukraine’s interim leader, is now nominally in charge of this strategic country of 46 million whose ailing economy faces a possible default and whose loyalties are sharply torn between Europe and longtime ruler Russia.

Law enforcement agencies have issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovych over the killing of 82 people, mainly protesters, last week in the bloodiest violence in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history. The president fled after signing a deal Friday with opposition leaders to end months of violent clashes between protesters and police.

Parliament on Tuesday adopted a resolution urging the International Criminal Court in The Hague to bring Yanukovych and other top Ukrainian officials to justice for the violent crackdown on protesters.

The protests erupted after Yanukovych’s abrupt decision in November to reject an agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union and instead sought a bailout loan from Moscow. But they grew into a massive movement demanding less corruption and greater human rights.

Parliament has fired some of Yanukovych’s lieutenants and named their replacements, but it has yet to appoint the new premier or fill all remaining government posts. Yanukovych’s whereabouts are unknown. He was last reportedly seen in the Crimea, a pro-Russia area.

Nationalist protesters, meanwhile, removed a Soviet star from the top of the Ukrainian parliament building, the Verkhovna Rada, on Tuesday and crowed about it.

The European Union’s top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, urged Ukraine’s new government to quickly work out an economic reform program so the West could consider financial aid to keep Ukraine from bankruptcy.

After meeting with Ukraine’s interim authorities in Kiev, she also said the new government should not exclude members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

“It needs to be inclusive,” Ashton told reporters.

Turchinov has said closer integration with Europe and financial assistance from the EU will be “key factors in (Ukraine’s) stable and democratic development.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has strongly condemned Ukraine’s new authorities, saying they came to power as a result of an “armed mutiny.”

The campaign for Ukraine’s early May 25 presidential election began Tuesday, with Yanukovych’s archrival — former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko — widely seen as a top contender for the post.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion, has announced his candidacy. But Tymoshenko, who was freed Saturday after spending 2 ½ years in prison on charges that many in the West called politically tainted, has not yet declared whether she will run.

Tymoshenko has been taking part in the negotiations on forming a new government, her daughter, Eugenia Tymoshenko, told the AP.

“She barely sleeps now and everything she tries to do is to make sure that first of all the opposition is unified, that everyone is trying to act on behalf of the people of Ukraine,” Eugenia Tymoshenko said Tuesday.

She would not comment on whether her mother plans to run for president. She said her mother plans to spend a week in Germany in March to undergo treatment for a back problem.

Tensions, meanwhile, have been mounting in Crimea in southern Ukraine, where Russia maintains a large naval base that has strained relations between the countries for decades. Pro-Russian protesters rallied for a second day Tuesday at the naval port of Sevastapol, a day after replacing a Ukrainian flag near city hall with a Russian flag.

“Bandits have come to power,” said Sevastopol volunteer Vyacheslav Tokarev, a 39-year-old construction worker. “I’m ready to take arms to fight the fascists who have seized power in Kiev.”

A senior Russian lawmaker said Tuesday that Russia will protect its compatriots in Ukraine if their lives are in danger.

“If the lives and the health of our compatriots are in danger, we won’t stand aside,” Leonid Slutsky told pro-Russian activists at a rally in the Crimean city of Simferopol.

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.

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

As Ukrainians worked to put together a new government, fears loomed that it would soon run out of money. Despite an educated workforce and rich farmland, its economy is in tatters due to corruption, bad government and short-sighted reliance on cheap natural gas from Russia.

The Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based association of banks and financial companies, has warned that Ukraine’s finances “are on the verge of collapse.”

Ukraine is battling to keep its currency, the hryvnia, from collapsing. Its acting finance minister says the country needs $35 billion (25.5 billion euros) to finance government needs this year and next.


Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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