KIEV. Ukraine’s parliament has voted to temporarily hand over the duties of president to the speaker of the assembly, Oleksander Turchinov, who told deputies to agree on the formation of a national unity government by Tuesday.
“This is a priority task,” Turchinov said in parliament.
He said discussions on the new government should begin immediately, one day after the chamber voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovich and two days after an agreement was reached with Yanukovich on the need to form a national unity government.
The legitimacy of Sunday’s vote is unclear. Yanukovich has said that a flurry of parliament decisions in recent days are illegal and that the parliament is now illegitimate.
The Verhovna Rada voted overwhelmingly to temporarily hand the president’s powers to Turchinov, a close ally of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the president’s main foe.
Parliament also voted to oust the foreign minister and was told by the country’s acting prosecutor that an order had been given to detain the former incomes minister and the former prosecutor-general.
The whereabouts of Yanukovich remained unclear on Sunday, a day after he left the capital and rival Tymoshenko was freed from prison and returned to Kiev to address a massive, adoring crowd.
Ukrainian news agencies, citing the deputy head of the State Border Service, reported that a chartered airplane with Yanukovich onboard was denied permission to take off from Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine that is the president’s base of support.
The centre of Kiev, meanwhile, was calm as the sun came up Sunday, the Associated Press news agency reported, after a day that saw a stunning reversal of fortune in Ukraine’s political crisis.
Protesters on Saturday took control of the presidential administration building, and thousands of Ukrainians roamed the suddenly open grounds of the lavish compound outside Kiev where Yanukovich was believed to live.
The political crisis in the nation of 46 million, strategically important for Europe, Russia and the United States, has changed with blinding speed repeatedly in the past week.
First there were signs that tensions were easing, followed by horrifying violence and then a deal signed under Western pressure that aimed to resolve the conflict but left the unity of the country in question.
Former prime minister Tymoshenko was both sad and excited as she spoke to a crowd of about 50,000 on Kiev’s Independence Square, where a sprawling protest tent camp was set up in December.
Addressing her supporters, she praised protesters who were killed this week in clashes with police that included sniper fire and entreating the living to keep the camp going.
The Health Ministry on Saturday said the death toll in clashes between protesters and police that included sniper attacks had reached 82.
The president’s authority in Kiev appeared to be eroding by the hour. He spoke on television in Kharkiv, the heartland of his base of support and ironically the same city where Tymoshenko was imprisoned.
“Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d’etat,” he said. “I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed.”