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Yushchenko to take office Sunday, visit Moscow

By wire services
Published January 21, 2005

Viktor Yushchenko will be sworn in Sunday as president of Ukraine, completing his "Orange Revolution" after months of political turmoil in which he defeated the Kremlin-backed candidate at the polls and survived a mysterious poisoning plot.

He moved quickly to repair relations with Russia, announcing he will visit Moscow on Monday. He will then make a swing through the European Union, which Ukraine hopes to join, before returning home to the former Soviet republic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who supported losing candidate Viktor Yanukovych during the campaign, sent a message of congratulations Thursday to the winner.

Ukrainian lawmakers on Thursday hurriedly scheduled the inauguration in a decision that came hours after Yushchenko cleared the last of a series of legal obstacles that had arisen since the Dec. 26 election, including an appeal filed in the Supreme Court by Yanukovych.

Yanukovych, the former prime minister, had been supported by the Kremlin over Yushchenko, who aims to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union and NATO.

On state TV, Yanukovych predicted Yushchenko would be unable to maintain good relations with Russia, and he declared he would stay in politics to lead the opposition.

"I'll do everything I can to restore justice," he said. "The "orange nightmare' will not last long."

And Putin's telegram may have contained the seeds of discord. Putin emphasized the "particular significance of Russia and Ukraine continuing their active participation in forming the Single Economic Space." That entity would bring Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakstan together as an economic union.

Yushchenko advisers said during the campaign that they have not yet studied the small print of the proposed union but are deeply suspicious of it. Boris Tarasyuk, a former Ukrainian foreign minister who may again fill that post under Yushchenko, dismissed the idea as a means of reasserting Russia's dominance over other countries of the former Soviet Union.

Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma also congratulated Yushchenko, according to his office. Kuchma, whose decade in power was marked by allegations of corruption and pressure against opposition forces and journalists, had favored Yanukovych as his successor.

During the campaign, Yushchenko was poisoned with a nearly lethal amount of dioxin that scarred his face and left him with gastrointestinal pain and a severe backache. He blamed the government; it denied involvement. Doctors have said they expect a gradual recovery, although they fear an increased long-term risk of a heart attack, cancer or other chronic diseases.

Yushchenko's spokeswoman Irina Herashenko said the visit to Moscow will be followed Tuesday by a trip to Strasbourg, France, to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He plans to speak at the European Parliament on Thursday.

The European swing will also take Yushchenko to the international economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, and to Poland, where he will attend ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army. Yushchenko's father was a Soviet army prisoner of war there.

Plans call for Yushchenko to be sworn in as president at noon Sunday at the Parliament.

Details of the inauguration program were still being worked out, and the Foreign Ministry was sending last-minute invitations to heads of state. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will attend in one of his last official acts. Among other dignitaries on hand will be NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski.

Information from the Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report.

[Last modified January 21, 2005, 00:30:24]


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