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Ukraine's new rulers dismantle Yanukovich power structure

Source: Reuters - Sun, 23 Feb 2014 13:53 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Ministers' heads roll, others sought by police

* Yanukovich loses his luxury home

* His party faithful turn against him

By Richard Balmforth

KIEV, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Ukraine's new rulers, just 24 hours after ousting President Viktor Yanukovich, began speedily to unstitch his power structure on Sunday, appointing a provisional leader to replace him and sacking his key ministers.

At an emergency parliament session, they worked at breakneck pace to dismantle the coterie of ministers and cronies he had gathered around him since coming to power in 2010.

Yanukovich remained at an undisclosed location somewhere in eastern Ukraine, still protesting against the "bandits terrorising the country" and declaring himself a legitimate president who had fallen victim to a coup d'etat.

But with defections from his Party of the Regions now swelling opposition ranks in parliament, opposition deputies found no difficulty in parliament in pushing through decisions that took to pieces the political house he had built.

Oleksander Turchinov, who was earlier given the duties of speaker, was temporarily handed the role of president - a particularly bitter pill for the fugitive Yanukovich since Turchinov is a confidant of his arch-rival Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yanukovich's foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara, who defended his boss's swerve away from the European Union in the face of an outcry in the West, was one of the first to go.

Education Minister Dmitry Tabachnik, an unpopular figure accused by many of bringing a pro-Russia interpretation of Ukrainian history to school primers, quickly followed.

SECURITY CHIEFS TARGETED

Law enforcement bodies and leading figures were particularly targeted because of their involvement in clashes with protesters that killed at least 82 people before Yanukovich fled Kiev.

Interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko - a hate figure for the protest movement - was stripped of his post on Friday and, like others, has gone into hiding.

When the new police and security chiefs took the rostrum on Sunday they announced orders for the detention of Yanukovich's incomes minister Oleksander Klimenko - a particularly close ally - and his prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka.

Pshonka has been identified with the prosecution of Tymoshenko, which ended with her being jailed in 2011 to seven years for abuse of power as prime minister.

Parliament heard that Pshonka and Klimenko had initially been detained at an airport in the eastern town of Donetsk but escaped after armed men entered the VIP lounge and began shooting.

"An investigation has been opened and an investigating-operational group is working for the detention of these people to bring them to trial," said Oleh Makhnytsky, acting prosecutor general.

Under pressure, too, from the Maidan - the name given now to the protest movement that brought Yanukovich down - the new leaders said police and others who had shot at people or given orders to shoot would be brought to book.

"Since yesterday, operational measures have been going on to stop criminals who fired at people or gave the orders (to shoot) from leaving the territory of Ukraine. Any person who gave the order to fire must be detained," said Nalivaychenko.

Acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said an investigation had been opened up to identify those who had exceeded their powers during the mass protests in Ukraine. Thirty possible suspects had already been identified among police, he said.

Though Avakov said police were investigating "grave crimes ... by former state leaders", no order was given for the detention of Yanukovich himself.

His precise whereabouts were unknown on Sunday, though he may be in his stronghold in the eastern city of Donetsk.

Border guards said on Saturday he had tried to leave Donetsk on a chartered plane for an undisclosed destination, but after being refused permission, his security guards drove him away by car.

Though Parliament did not issue an order for his arrest, deputies found a way of hurting him nonetheless - ruling that the 140-hectare estate outside Kiev where he lived in sumptuous style should be returned to the state within 10 days.

In parliament, his support finally collapsed, with Oleksander Yefremov, until Sunday a dutiful head of the party faction, now denouncing his former master for issuing "criminal orders" that brought deaths, empty state coffers, huge debts and "shame on the Ukrainian people". (Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Will Waterman)

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