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Ex-leader faces arrest

- Former Ukraine President ‘wanted for mass murder’

Kiev, Feb. 24 (Reuters): Ukraine’s new authorities issued an arrest warrant today for mass murder against ousted President Viktor Yanukovich, who is on the run after being toppled by bloody street protests in which police snipers killed demonstrators.

Russia, Yanukovich’s main backer, said it would not deal with Ukrainians who seized power from their elected leader in an “armed mutiny”. It declared that Russian citizens’ lives were under threat there, and contacted Nato to express concern.

With Ukraine’s neighbours raising the alarm about a break-up of Ukraine, Moscow said the concerns of local leaders in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Russian-speaking bastions of electoral support for Yanukovich, must be taken into account.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton arrived in Kiev to discuss measures to shore up the ailing economy, which the finance ministry said needs urgent financial assistance to avoid default.

Ukraine's parliament, exercising power as leaders try to form an interim government, replaced the head of the central bank, appointing lawmaker and former banker Stepan Kubiv.

Yanukovich, 63, who fled Kiev by helicopter on Friday, was still at large after heading first to his power base in the east, where he was prevented from flying out of the country, and then diverting south to the Crimea peninsula on the Black Sea, acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said.

“An official case for the mass murder of peaceful citizens has been opened,” Avakov wrote on Facebook. “Yanukovich and other people responsible for this have been declared wanted.”

Yanukovich had left a private residence in Balaclava, near the home base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol, for an unknown destination, Avakov said. He went by car with one of his aides and a handful of security guards.

It was an ignominious political end for Yanukovich who has been publicly deserted by some of his closest erstwhile allies, stripped of his luxury residence near Kiev and had to witness the release from prison of his arch-rival Yulia Tymoshenko.

A day after Yanukovich fled, parliament named its new speaker, Oleksander Turchinov, as interim head of state. An ally of Tymoshenko, he aims to swear in a government by tomorrow that can run things until a presidential election on May 25.

Whoever takes charge faces a huge challenge to satisfy popular expectations and will find an economy in deep crisis, with state debt payments of around $6 billion due this year. The finance ministry said it needed $35 billion in foreign assistance.

 
 
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