The newly-sworn in president of Ukraine has told a vast crowd of supporters in Kiev’s Independence Square that the country deserves to be in the European Union. It was in the same square that Viktor Yushchenko led hundreds of thousands sporting orange banners, ribbons and scarves in protests to denounce fraud in last November’s presidential runoff.
The Supreme Court ordered a second vote. Yushchenko took 52 per cent in the December re-run, and his rival Viktor Yanukovich this week lost his last appeal against that result. Today he said: “Our way to the future is the way of a united Europe. We, along with the people of Europe, belong to one civilisation. We share similar values, and similar economic perspectives.”
Yushchenko, a former Prime Minister, promised to eradicate corruption and build a country with a transparent economy. He gave his 20-minute address in front of many foreign dignitaries including outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski. Yushchenko said Ukraine, sandwiched between Russia and the 25-nation European Union, would act in its own interests: “We are prepared to respect the interests of other states and to develop stable relations with them. But for me and for you, national interests are above all else.”
Yushchenko has called for an end to divisions between Ukraine’s nationalist western regions and the Russian-speaking east, which were accentuated by the election. The 50-year-old had his face disfigured last year by dioxin poisoning. He blamed it on people linked to the man he replaces as president, Leonid Kuchma.
Tomorrow Yushchenko will fulfil a promise to make Moscow his first foreign destination as head of state by meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin.