| Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (right) with US secretary of state Colin Powell in Kiev. (AFP)
Kiev, Jan. 23 (Reuters): Viktor Yushchenko became Ukraine's President today, crowning a peaceful revolt by ordinary people that overcame a rigged election, thwarted Russia's bid to influence the vote and pointed the country decisively westward.
Watched by US secretary of state Colin Powell and only minor dignitaries from Russia, Yushchenko ' his face pockmarked by poison administered to slow his rise to power ' took the oath of office to cap his two-month Orange Revolution.
'The people achieved honest elections, the transfer of power was legitimate,' Yushchenko, a 50-year-old former central bank governor, told parliament after taking the oath. 'We have a single aim ' a democratic and prosperous Ukraine.'
Aware of the turning point reached in his country's history, Yushchenko told Powell he was happy 'that I have lived to the time when the Ukrainian President is elected not in Moscow, not in Washington, but in Ukraine'.
Yushchenko, a former Prime Minister, wants to eradicate corruption and build a country with a transparent economy and institutions to join the European mainstream. Ukraine is sandwiched between Russia and the 25-nation European Union.
Crowds gathered in Independence Square, its buildings bedecked in Yushchenko's orange campaign colours, trademark of the revolution that propelled him to power.
Presidents of at least seven countries were due to attend the inauguration, including Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Estonia and Latvia ' all formerly communist states now committed to European integration.
Yushchenko wants an end to divisions between Ukraine's nationalist western regions and the Russian-speaking east that had been accentuated by the election. Tomorrow he will fulfil a promise to make Moscow his first foreign destination by meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
His programme this week also includes visits to the Council of Europe, a major rights body, the European Parliament, the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and commemorations in Poland of the Soviet army's liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
'I want to assure you that you will continue to enjoy the full support of the American government and the American people as you move forward to undertake the efforts that the Ukrainian people are expecting,' Powell told Yushchenko after their talks.
He said the meeting dealt with 'activation of Ukrainian efforts toward international integration. This includes the prospects for Ukraine acquiring a market-based economy.'
That, he said, was critical for Ukraine joining the World Trade Organisation.
'This would not have happened if we didn't have partners that are advocating democratic principles and shared democratic values. And I certainly include in this list the United States of America and your personal contribution.'
Yushchenko, his face disfigured from dioxin poisoning he blames on secret services, was elected in a race dominated by mass protests against fraud in a first ballot that he lost. The Supreme Court ordered a second vote which he won comfortably.
Powell, due to step down as secretary of state, made his offer of help after a telephone call to Yushchenko by President George W. Bush yesterday in which the new Ukrainian leader was invited to Washington.