Kiev: Ukraine's parliament, exercising power since mass protests caused the president to flee, named its new speaker as acting head of state to replace Viktor Yanukovych and worked to form a new government.
In a hectic round of voting in the chamber, near where triumphant but wary protesters remain camped on Kiev's main square, lawmakers stripped the still missing president of his abandoned country home. Its brash opulence, now on display, has fuelled demands that the Russian-backed elected leader and his allies be held to account for corruption on a grand scale.
The European Union and Russia, vying for influence over the huge former Soviet republic on their borders, considered their next moves. EU officials said they were ready to help Ukraine, while Russia, its strategy of funding Mr Yanukovych in tatters, said it would keep cash on hold until it sees who is in charge.
Newly-appointed acting president Oleksandr Turchynov. Photo: AFP
Parliament-appointed security officials announced legal moves against members of the ousted administration and those responsible for sniper fire and other police attacks on demonstrators in violence that left 82 dead in Kiev last week.
A day after dismissing Mr Yanukovych with the help of votes from his own party, parliament handed his powers temporarily to Oleksander Turchynov, who was elected speaker on Saturday.
An ally of newly freed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, Mr Turchynov called for an interim prime minister to be in place by Tuesday to run the country until a presidential election called for May 25. Among contenders may be Ms Tymoshenko, 53, who lost to Mr Yanukovych in 2010 and was then jailed for corruption.
Ukrainians listen to speeches in Kiev's Independence Square on Sunday. Photo: Reuters
Mr Turchynov also warned of the "catastrophic" state of the nation's economy.
"The situation in Ukraine, first of all in the economy, is catastrophic," he told parliament. "There are no funds in the state Treasury account."
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Ukraine on Monday, where she is expected to discuss measures to shore up the ailing economy, the EU said on Sunday. The EU has said it is prepared to offer economic support to Ukraine but it would be conditional on the country reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
A makeshift memorial near Independence Square in Kiev. Photo: Getty Images
With pro-EU protesters still controlling central Kiev, and crowds on the streets in other towns and cities, parliament is under pressure to demonstrate its authority across the nation and to calm fears of a split with pro-Russian regional leaders in the fallen president's eastern political base.
"In these days the most important thing is to form a functioning government," said Vitaly Klitschko, a former world boxing champion and a leading figure in the uprising. "We have to take very important steps in order to ensure the survival of the economy, which is in a very bad shape," he told a news conference. He denied there had been a coup.
Mr Yanukovych, 63, denounced what he called a "coup d'etat" reminiscent of Nazi Germany. He spoke on television on Saturday from what looked like a hotel room in a city close to the Russian border.
Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko addresses protesters in Kiev's Independence Square on February 22. Photo: Reuters
However even the president's Party of the Regions, backed by many of the wealthy "oligarchs" who dominate Ukraine's post-Soviet economy, seems to have given up on a wavering leader with whom Moscow had last week appeared to be losing patience.
"The changes that have happened, have happened. It's already done," said Tatyana Bakhteyeva, a parliamentarian from Mr Yanukovych's home region of Donetsk. Party lawmakers issued a statement blaming Mr Yanukovych and his entourage for the crisis.
Meanwhile, the bodyguards of two close allies of Mr Yanukovych fired on border guards when they were blocked from trying to escape the country. The interim prosecutor-general told parliament that prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka and tax chief Oleksandr Klymenko, both close-knit political and financial allies of Mr Yanukovych, were prevented from going abroad at the Donetsk airport. He says they were only able to get away on Saturday when their bodyguards shot at border guards, and measures have been taken to arrest them.
Protesters sing the Ukrainian national anthem at the square on February 22. Photo: AFP
Instability in Ukraine, a vast territory of 46 million, is a major concern for both Russia, where President Vladimir Putin supported the Yanukovych administration financially, and for the European Union to the west, which had offered Ukraine a far-reaching trade pact that Mr Yanukovych rejected in November. It was that decision, taken after threats of retaliation from Moscow, that sparked the protests.
The ascendant leadership has promised economic reform and closer ties to the EU; Ms Tymoshenko even told the crowd in central Kiev on Saturday night that she expected to join the bloc - something few inside the EU expect any time soon.
A member of Ms Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party said she was one of three main candidates to be prime minister. The other two are her party colleague Arseny Yatsenyuk and Petro Poroshenko, one of Ukraine's richest men, a confectionery magnate and former minister dubbed "The Chocolate King".
Ms Tymoshenko spoke by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule today. Both supported her return to politics as a stabilising force, her party said in a statement on its website. After announcing to journalists yesterday that she would run for president in May, she was less definitive today and said she didn't want to be considered for prime minister of the new cabinet.
Ms Tymoshenko's mixed performance as prime minister following the 2004-05 Orange Revolution that overturned a first presidential election victory by Mr Yanukovych means the former gas magnate and her allies may have much to prove before very substantial international aid is forthcoming. At the same time, the risk of instability on the EU borders, and of Russian intervention, may drive EU governments and their US ally to dig deep to help Kiev out.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who helped broker a short-lived truce in Kiev between Mr Yanukovych and the opposition after Thursday's violence, said the EU must help Ukraine to curb more violence and prevent the break-up of the country.
"In light of the exceptional situation in which Ukraine finds itself, France, together with its European partners, calls for the preservation of the country's unity and integrity and for people to refrain from violence," Mr Fabius said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Russia against undermining EU aid - a reference to its threats of trade sanctions last year - and against other intervention.
Asked if Moscow might "send in the tanks" to defend the interests of Russian-speakers in eastern and southern Ukraine, Mr Hague said: "It would really not be in the interests of Russia to do any such thing ... There are many dangers."
Russia docks its Black Sea Fleet on Ukraine's Crimea peninsula - a region that like Mr Yanukovych's home city of Donetsk and other industrial areas in the east has many native Russian-speakers and strong cultural ties to Moscow.
Reflecting anger in Russia, where Mr Putin sees Ukraine as a key element in a future customs union, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday opponents of Mr Yanukovych had failed to abide by a peace deal they signed on Friday and had seized power, the ministry said.
Russia said on Sunday it had recalled to Moscow its ambassador in Ukraine for consultations on the "deteriorating situation" in Kiev.
In southern regions of Ukraine, including Odessa and Kerch, people marched in support of closer ties with Russia, according to newswire Unian. More than 2000 people gathered in Odessa carrying Russian flags, and in Kerch, marchers replaced a Ukrainian flag at the mayor's office with Russian and Crimean flags, Unian reported.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who helped negotiate the peace agreement signed by Mr Yanukovych and the opposition, said there was "no coup in Kiev," and that parliament is acting legally.
On Independence Square some tents were dismantled, but many people said they would go on holding the area until a new president was in place.
On Sunday morning, several thousand people listened to speeches and prayers for last week's victims. Men were still wandering around with clubs and wearing home-made body armour, helmets and in some cases ski masks and camouflage fatigues.
"We'll stay here to the very end," said one, Bohdan Zakharchenko, 23, from Cherkasy, south of Kiev. "We will be here till there's a new president. We want to be the owners of our own homeland."
Reuters, Bloomberg, AAP