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EU's Ashton Meeting Ukraine's New Acting President

Oleksandr Turchynov is now the acting head of state.
Oleksandr Turchynov is now the acting head of state.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton begins a two-day visit to Kyiv on February 24, meeting with Ukraine’s new interim leadership about the country’s political crisis and measures that could be taken to stabilize the economy.

Ashton’s visit comes after a dramatic weekend in Kyiv -- where parliament ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, appointed opposition leader Oleksandr Turchynov to the post of parliamentary speaker, and then designated Turchynov as acting president and acting prime minister.

Parliament also scheduled an early presidential election for May 25.

Turchynov -- an ally of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko -- called on the parliament to agree on the formation of a national unity government by February 25.

Tymoshenko, Yanukovych's chief political rival, was released from detention on February 22 by order of the parliament

Tymoshenko said she is not seeking the post of prime minister.

On the night of February 23, Turchynov said in a televised speech to the country that his top priority is to prevent Ukraine from being torn apart at the seams between Ukrainian nationalists in the west and pro-Moscow, ethnic Russians in the south and the east.

"Our first mission right now is to stop conflict, renew control, coordination, and rule of law in the country; to transfer special forces and internal troops back to their bases; guarantee peace and order, and avoid mob rule," Turchynov said. "We must give a harsh answer to any separatism and threats to the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Turchynov stressed that he would try to maintain good relations with Russia. But he also made it clear that steering Kyiv back toward European integration would be a top priority.

“We must return to the circle of European countries," he said. "We also understand the importance of our relations with Russia to build relations with this country on a new, just, equal, and goodwill basis -- which recognizes and takes into account the European choice of the country."

Ukraine's new acting president also said Yanukovych and his former prime minister Mykola Azarov had left the country in dire straits.

"Against the backdrop of the world economic recovery, Ukraine is rolling down into an abyss and is a pre-default state," Turchynov said. "Recovering the economy is the mission of the new government, which will be formed after the presidential elections.”

Fears that Ukraine’s debt-laden economy is facing default have sparked panic on markets – with Ukraine’s bond yields rising sharply and its hryvnia currency losing a tenth of its value in recent weeks.

Ashton is expected during her visit to provide more details about an EU offer of economic support that Brussels has said will be contingent upon Kyiv reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said on February 23 that the fund would be ready to assist if it is asked for support.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew also said Washington would support the rebuilding of Ukraine’s economy, provided the new leadership in Kyiv sets out on a course of reforms.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov says Moscow will decide soon after the creation of a new government whether to disburse the next tranche of a $15 billion bailout loan program that the Kremlin had offered to Yanukovych last year.

Moscow has recalled its ambassador from Kyiv for what the Russian Foreign Ministry has called “consultations” at the Kremlin on February 24.

In other moves by Ukraine's parliament during the weekend, lawmakers also voted to dismiss Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara, a strong Yanukovych ally, and a number of other ministers.

Parliament also voted on February 23 to hand Yanukovych's opulent residence outside Kyiv to the state.

Live Blog: Crisis In Ukraine

Meanwhile, Yanukovych left the capital on February 22 and his precise whereabouts remain unclear.

Arsen Avakov, the acting interior minister, confirmed that border guards had prevented Yanukovych from boarding a chartered plane out of the eastern city of Donetsk.

Opposition lawmaker Volodym Kurennoy said on Facebook that he had unconfirmed information that Yanukovych had been arrested in Crimea, while the Ukrainain news portal reports that Sevastopol residents saw Yanukovych in the company of Russian marines. Neither claim could not be independently verified.

Criminal Investigations

Parliament was also told an order has been given to arrest former Tax and Revenue Minister Oleksandr Klimenko and former Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka.

Avakov said criminal investigations have been launched into the alleged role of some 30 Interior Ministry officials in the brutal crackdown on protesters.

Ukraine's Health Ministry on February 22 said clashes between protesters and riot police earlier this week left 82 people dead and 645 injured.

Yulia Tymoshenko Speaks On Kyiv's Independence Square
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WATCH: Tymoshenko addresses the crowd on Independence Square

Addressing thousands of antigovernment demonstrators on Kyiv's Independence Square on February 22, Tymoshenko appeared to call for Yanukovych and his allies to be held accountable for the killings of protesters.

"I was sitting in prison thinking that there was no bigger happiness than to be born and to live among you, because you are the best," she said. "But now, we have to do a couple of important things. First of all, we have to bring Yanukovych and all this scum that gathered around him here to the square."

Tymoshenko also urged demonstrators not to abandon their protests.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said it was right that protesters keep up their presence in the streets.

"I think the people have to stay on the streets and in control of the whole process that happens in Ukraine," he said. "Human power is very important. Every politician has to know -- any new [government] has to know and remember -- if they start to play the dirty game, this can happen again.

Mourning On Kyiv's Independence Square
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WATCH: Mourning On Kyiv's Independence Square

"The main power -- the will of the people -- is very important. Ukraine has shown to the whole world that it works -- we can [bring about] change."

In a Television interview on February 22, Yanukovych said he will not resign and that all decisions by parliament are illegal.

His Party of Regions said in a statement that the "entire responsibility" for the recent bloodshed in Ukraine rests "with Yanukovych and his nearest associates."

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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