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Ukraine lawmakers name interim leaders

Tens of thousands gathered Wednesday in Kiev’s Independence Square as new government leaders were introduced.

Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

Tens of thousands gathered Wednesday in Kiev’s Independence Square as new government leaders were introduced.

KIEV — Standing before a crowd of tens of thousands in Independence Square, the epicenter of the three-month civic uprising that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, the lawmakers temporarily controlling Ukraine announced an interim government Wednesday night to be led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a veteran public official who has served as speaker of Parliament, foreign minister, economics minister, and acting head of the central bank.

The public presentation of Yatsenyuk, who will serve as acting prime minister, and more than 20 other proposed Cabinet members was a frenetic effort by establishment politicians to win the backing of the street protesters, whose persistence in the face of the deaths of more than 80 people last week in clashes with the police ultimately dislodged Yanukovych from power.

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As the names of the proposed ministers were read from the stage — with flowers and candles blanketing the square in memory of the dead — it became clear just how completely the ordinary people on the street had seized control of the direction of Ukraine. Desperate for the crowd’s legitimacy, officials felt compelled to present the slate on stage in the square before putting it up for a vote by Parliament.

The reaction from the crowd was mixed.

Jeers and whistles greeted some established politicians and cheers for some figures with no government experience chosen because of their role in the uprising. But with Ukraine hurtling toward an economic catastrophe, and no time for protracted negotiations, the gesture of deference to the crowd seemed sufficient to move the process forward.

“We need to change these faces,” said Alyona Murashko, a 28-year-old marketing specialist who stopped in the square to watch the announcement, carrying groceries on her way home from work. Murashko said that she approved of the choice of Olga Bogomolets, a physician, singer, and activist, as deputy prime minister for humanitarian affairs, and of Tatyana Chornovil, a crusading activist and journalist, to lead Ukraine’s anticorruption bureau.

Murashko, however, said she opposed Yatsenyuk and many of the other choices.

“I wouldn’t like to see him even temporarily,” she said. “No one from current political parties.”

Murashko said that she was glad that presidential elections would be held in May but wanted parliamentary elections “as soon as possible.”

Among those eliciting loud boos was Oleksandr Turchynov, who was elected by colleagues Saturday as the new speaker of Parliament and who has been authorized to carry out the duties of president, effectively putting him in charge of the country. Turchynov was not part of the slate announced Wednesday night and will continue in his position even after the interim government is approved.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a surprise military exercise of ground and air forces on Ukraine’s doorstep Wednesday, intending to demonstrate the country’s military preparedness at a time of heightened tensions with Europe and the United States over the turmoil gripping Russia’s western neighbor.

Russia’s military put tens of thousands of troops in western Russia on alert at 2 p.m. for an exercise scheduled to last until March 3. The minister of defense, Sergei K. Shoigu, also announced unspecified measures to tighten security at the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

The orders came as thousands of ethnic Russians gathered outside the regional Parliament in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, to protest the political upheaval in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, that turned Yanukovych into a fugitive. Crimea was a part of Russian territory until the Soviet Union ceded it to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine in 1954, and Russians there have already pleaded for the Kremlin’s intervention to protect the region and its population from Ukraine’s new leadership.

Yanukovych, the object of a nationwide manhunt in Ukraine, had been believed to be in hiding in Crimea after he bolted from Kiev on Saturday. His present whereabouts are unknown.

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