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Ukraine's New President Takes Oath Of Office

  • Askold Krushelnycky

http://gdb.rferl.org/9E614392-BE15-49D6-90F5-4623E0518F4D_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/9E614392-BE15-49D6-90F5-4623E0518F4D_mw800_mh600.jpg (file photo) Kyiv, 23 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Viktor Yushchenko was sworn in as the new president of Ukraine today in Kyiv.

Viktor Yushchenko took the oath as Ukrainian president at a special session of parliament that was attended by more than 60 foreign dignitaries -- among them many presidents and prime ministers. Guests included outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Czech President Vaclav Havel, who had especially wanted to be present.

Speaker of parliament Volodymyr Lytvyn opened the session by welcoming Yushchenko into the chamber: "Please give a welcome to the newly elected President of Ukraine, Viktor Andreyevytch Yushchenko."

Yushchenko was elected in a repeat of the election runoff that took place on 26 December. Today's inauguration follows weeks of political drama as Ukraine's old guard tried to cling to power and his rival for the presidency, Viktor Yanukovych, made legal challenges to the election results. Those legal challenges were finally thrown out by the Ukrainian Supreme Court on 20 January.

The head of Ukraine's Central Election Commission formally presented the official results to the parliament during today's ceremony.

Yushchenko took the oath with his right hand on an ancient Bible, the first Ukrainian-language version, and was installed by the head of the Constitutional Court as president.

"I, Viktor Yushchenko -- elected by the will of the people as the president of Ukraine and entering into this high office -- solemnly swear to faithfully serve Ukraine and pledge that I commit myself with all my abilities to defend the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, to take care of the well-being of the homeland of the Ukrainian people, defend the rights and liberties of citizens to uphold the constitution of Ukraine and the laws of Ukraine, to execute my responsibilities in the interests of all fellow citizens, to raise the position of Ukraine in the world," Yushchenko said.

After he took the oath he kissed the Bible and parliamentarians, members of his Our Ukraine coalition chanted their leader's name.

In a short speech from the rostrum, Yushchenko, spoke in conciliatory fashion, saying he wanted to offer his hand to each member of parliament, regardless of whether they were his supporters or not:

"Today I would like to extend my hand to every parliamentarian of each faction, to every leader of each faction, and ask for your cooperation. We have one goal -- a prosperous and democratic Ukraine," he said.

Yushchenko told the Verkhovna Rada deputies and visiting dignitaries that his inauguration is a great democratic victory for the Ukrainian nation. "Today's event once more confirms that Ukraine exists as a nation and as a state," he said. "The citizens of Ukraine achieved an honest election. The transfer of power was legitimate. This is a great national victory."

After the Verkhovna Rada ceremony, Yushchenko walked the short distance from parliament to the Mariansky presidential palace. He attended a short military ceremony marking his formal installation as military commander in chief.

He was then driven to Independence Square in the center of Kyiv, where hundreds of thousands of people -- and by some estimates up to a half a million people -- greeted their new president.

Today's inauguration was the culmination of a peaceful mass uprising in Ukraine that overturned the declared results of an earlier second-round vote on 21 November. Electoral officials had awarded victory to Yanukovych. But Yushchenko's supporters and international monitors complained that the results were hugely fraudulent.

The uprising was dubbed the "Orange Revolution" because the crowds that gathered on 21 November to protest the initial results wore orange ribbons, hats, clothes, and flags. Orange was Yushchenko's campaign color.

The size of the protesting crowds was pivotal in forcing the government to allow the country's Supreme Court to review the results. On 3 December, the high court ruled that the 21 November results were fraudulent and ordered the 26 December rerun of the final round.

Independence Square is the place from which Yushchenko and his senior political colleagues addressed their supporters almost daily. It also is the place that Yushchenko says will go into Ukrainian history because of the democratizing events which flowed from it.

Kyiv today -- in sunny, almost spring-like weather -- was decorated with huge orange banners as well as the blue and yellow national flag. Polish and Swedish museums provided Ukrainian historical artifacts from the 17th century for the ceremony. They include a mace, the traditional symbol of power of Ukrainian Cossack leaders, and a banner used by one of Ukraine's most famous Cossack chiefs, Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky.

Those who voted for Yushchenko say they hope that he will make good on his promises to root out the rampant corruption, lawlessness, and abuse of human rights that had become routine during the 10-year-rule of Ukraine's outgoing authoritarian president President Leonid Kuchma.

Yushchenko has pledged to reorient Ukraine and its population of some 50 million people closer to the West and out of the orbit of its former Soviet colonial master, Russia.

However, the new president's first official visit abroad will be a trip tomorrow to Moscow. That is seen as a conciliatory gesture to mend relations after Russia's overt backing for Yushchenko's rival in the presidential election. There also have been allegations that Russia was involved in poisoning Yushchenko and had encouraged the use of force to crush opposition protests.

Yushchenko has pledged that Ukraine will only build relations with Russia on an equal basis and in a way that will not obstruct Kyiv's declared ambitions to join the EU and NATO.

Yushchenko's Moscow trip will be the first in a hectic schedule during the next week. He is scheduled to address the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. He also plans a journey to Poland for the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Army's liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

[For more RFE/RL coverage and analysis of the political crisis in Ukraine, click here.]
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