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Ukraine

European integration sought, says Ukraine's interim leader

Ukraine's interim president has renewed calls for closer ties with the EU while also stressing Russia's role. Germany, France and the US say Ukraine must stay intact. Ousted President Viktor Yanukovych remains elusive.

Western powers called on Sunday for Ukraine to be kept intact despite sentiment in its western regions favouring Europe and pro-Russian sentiment in its east. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russian President Vladimir Putin also wanted "stability" in Ukraine.

Addressing the nation on Sunday, Kyiv's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov said the new leadership was ready to put dialogue with Russia on a "new, equal and good-neighborly footing that recognizes and takes into account Ukraine's European choice."

"Another priority is the return to the path of European integration," he said, referring to Yanukovych's rejection in November of an EU association agreement and his acceptance of a $15-billion (11 billion euros) bailout offer from Russia.

Merkel phones Putin

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said the chancellor had phoned Putin before the close of the Sochi Olympics and "both agreed that Ukraine must quickly get a government capable of acting" and its territorial integrity must be "preserved."

French President Francois Hollande said Ukraine's territorial integrity "must be respected" following its tumultuous past week.

Opposition 'deviating,' says Lavrov

Putin himself remained silent but the Russian foreign ministry said Russia's ambassador in Ukraine was being recalled to Moscow for consultations on the "deteriorating situation."

The ministry said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had told US Secretary of State John Kerry that opponents of Yanukovych were "deviating" from the peace deal they signed on Friday and had seized power.

Earlier on Sunday, the Kyiv parliament - newly dominated by opposition parties - had appointed its new speaker Turchynov as the nation's interim leader, pending a presidential election set for May 25.

A spokeswoman for Yanukovych on Sunday claimed that he remained in the Russia-oriented eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and still regarded himself as president.

In Kyiv, one of several opposition leaders Vitaly Klitschko said: "He has disappeared."

Prevented from fleeing

Ukraine's border service said Yanukovych had been prevented from fleeing Kharkiv on Saturday because his charter plane did not have the required paperwork.

Russian-speaking regional leaders, meeting in Kharkiv, said on Sunday they no longer recognized decisions taken by parliament in Kyiv.

In several towns and cities including Kyiv (pictured), protesters pulled down statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin. In the eastern cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv pro-Russian activists defended Lenin statues.

Avoid 'grave mistake,' says Rice

In Washington, Susan Rice, US President Barack Obama's national security adviser said it would be a "grave mistake" for Russia to send military forces into Ukraine.

Rice said the US wanted "in very short order" constitutional changes and democratic elections, and a de-escalation of the past week's violence which included sniper fire.

Deaths in Kyiv in and around its Independence Square or Maidan amounted to 82, according to the Health Ministry and more than 100 according to protesters.

The new interior minister, Arsen Avikov, announced a probe into what he termed police involvement in the "execution" of protesters in the carnage.

Task of stabilizing economy

In his Sunday address, Turchynov also said Ukraine's next government would have the task of stabilizing Ukraine's economy, which he said was at risk of default.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Moscow would only release a $2 billion second bailout tranche if a new government was formed in Kyiv. Until now, Putin had long seen Ukraine as a key part of his planned Eurasian Union.

European Economics Commissioner Ollie Rehn spoke of "substantial aid" if the next Ukrainian government looked west.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the public German television channel ZDF: "A bankrupt Ukraine would be a huge weight for its big neighbour to the east [Russia] as well as for the European Union."

"It's reasonable to discuss right now... how to stabilise Ukraine economically," Steinmeier said.

Ukraine's controversial 2004 Orange Revolution figure Yulia Tymoschenko and potential presidential candidate issued a message via her party on Sunday saying she needed to build up strength after her release from prison.

Lavish living

At the lavish Kyiv estate abandoned on Saturday by Yanukovych, journalists on Sunday sifted through discarded documents - some half-burned - while amazed Kyiv residents inspected its gardens.

Kommersant Ukraine newspaper journalist Sergei Sidorenko said he found a document that put the estate's cost at $70 million (51 million euros).

ipj/pfd (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

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