Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Viktor Yanukovych sworn in as Ukraine president


Viktor Yanukovych is sworn in as new Ukraine president

Viktor Yanukovych, the opposition leader who won Ukraine's recent election, has been inaugurated as the country's new president.

His electoral opponent, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, says Mr Yanukovych won through fraud and refuses to recognise his victory.

Both Mrs Tymoshenko and the outgoing President, Viktor Yushchenko, did not attend the ceremony in Kiev.

International observers have said the February poll was conducted fairly.

Mr Yanukovych beat Mrs Tymoshenko in the run-off by 3.5%. He won the support of only about a third of Ukraine's 37 million eligible voters. He is the first Ukrainian president to have been backed by fewer than 50% of those who voted.

Despite this, his victory marked a comeback from humiliation five years ago when mass street protests - known as the Orange Revolution - overturned a presidential election that had been rigged in his favour.

The protests swept to power Mr Yushchenko and Mrs Tymoshenko.

'Non-aligned state'

On Thursday, Mr Yanukovych swore the oath of office in parliament in front of deputies and visiting foreign heads of state and representatives.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko outside the supreme administrative court in Kiev 16/02/10
Mrs Tymoshenko says the poll was "falsified"

"I vow to defend through my actions the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine and the rights and freedoms of its citizens," he said.

There was a block of empty seats in the chamber where deputies belonging to Mrs Tymoshenko's bloc would have sat.

After taking the oath, Mr Yanukovych acknowledged the divisions in parliament and Ukraine's economic difficulties, including "colossal debts, poverty and economic collapse".

But he that he knew how to lead the country out of the crisis, urging the government and parliament to co-operate with him.

Ukrainian politics has been dominated by the rivalries between Mr Yanukovych, Mrs Tymoshenko and Mr Yushchenko since the Orange Revolution.

Mr Yanukovych has said he now wants to form a new coalition and oust Mrs Tymoshenko as prime minister.

She has refused to step down and has called on her parliamentary coalition to oppose him.

Last weekend, she withdrew a legal challenge against her rival's victory in the election. She said the court was not interested in giving her justice in her case against Mr Yanukovych.

There have been concerns that he would steer Ukraine's foreign policy away from the West-leaning course that Mr Yushchenko had charted, in favour of closer ties with Moscow.

His power base is in the Russian-speaking east and south of the country. In the Ukrainian-speaking west and centre, he lost every region to Mrs Tymoshenko.

But in his speech, Mr Yanukovych said Ukraine was "a bridge between the East and the West, integral part of both Europe and the former USSR".

Describing Ukraine as a "European, non-aligned state", he pledged to develop a foreign policy that would allow Kiev to "reap maximum rewards by developing mutually beneficial ties with Russia, the EU, US and other states".

In a signal that he may not move away from closer ties with the EU, some of his advisers have said his first foreign visit as president will be to the EU headquarters in Brussels, not Moscow.

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