Yanukovych inaugurated as Ukraine prez

KIEV: Viktor Yanukovych was inaugurated as Ukrainian president on Thursday, six years after massive protests over vote fraud got his first election victory tossed out. This time the pro-Russian leader promised to make Ukraine a European nation outside of any bloc.

Yanukovych took the oath of office in the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament that has been the scene of intense maneuvering over the future of his rival Yulia Tymoshenko, who aims to stay on as prime minister.

Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in a presidential election runoff on Feb. 7. Tymoshenko alleges vote fraud, but she has dropped her court case on the issue, claiming the court was controlled by Yanukovych's supporters.

International observers had called the 2010 vote free and fair.

Tymoshenko led the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that paved the way for a rerun of the fraud-tainted 2004 presidential election in which Yanukovych had been declared winner. He lost a revote to Viktor Yushchenko.

Yanukovych, whose margin of victory was only 3.5 percentage points, enters office with a shaky mandate and face severe national challenges. He inherits an economy crippled by the global financial crisis and a nation whose political loyalties are polarized.

He has broad support in the Russian-speaking east of the country, but in the Ukrainian-speaking west, he lost in virtually every region to Tymoshenko.

Once considered a Kremlin flunky, the new president promised to carve a unique geopolitical path for Ukraine.

"I think that the state can not only be saved from a social-economic collapse, but can quickly be put on the path of accelerated development," Yanukovych said in his inauguration address.

He viewed Ukraine's destiny as being "a European state outside of any bloc."

His predecessor's aim to bring the country into NATO alienated many Ukrainians and angered neighboring Russia. Critics said Yushchenko's push for closer integration with the European Union was made at the expense of paying attention to his country's serious economic problems and endemic corruption.

Yanukovych, a native Russian-speaker, is expected to bring Ukraine's closer into Moscow's influence, but to what extent is unclear.

Russian officials openly supported him in the 2004 election, leading to criticism of outside interference, so Russia kept a low profile in this year's election. Its delegation to Thursday's inauguration was led by parliament speaker Boris Gryzlov, but also included Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, a sign that Russia will continue to resist efforts by a Ukrainian Orthodox Church faction to split off.

Tymoshenko's refusal to concede defeat and step down from the premiership threatens to prolong the political wrangling that has paralyzed Ukraine's government for several years, deepening the financial crisis that saw economy shrink 15 percent last year. The parliament has not even been able to pass a budget for this year.

Yet weeks of negotiations in the back rooms of parliament have failed to produce a coalition that could oust Tymoshenko. On the eve of Yanukovych's inauguration, she appeared to taunt his Party of Regions for this failure, challenging its leadership to oust her if they could.

"The Party of Regions does not have the votes to carry out this dismissal," Tymoshenko told a government meeting Wednesday.

The deputy head of Yanukovych's party, Anna German, said Yanukovych would never be able to work in tandem with Tymoshenko and he would seek to replace her by this spring.