Ukraine 'set to unveil new government'

New cabinet to be announced in capital's Independence Square following disbanding of country's riot police.

    Ukraine 'set to unveil new government'
    The Berkut riot police are a 5,000-strong contingent with deployments in every corner of Ukraine [AP]

    Ukraine's pro-Western interim leaders were set to unveil their new cabinet after disbanding the feared riot police, as they sought to build confidence in the splintered and economically ravaged ex-Soviet nation.

    The new government will be symbolically revealed on Wednesday in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicentre of three months of protests that culminated in carnage last week and triggered the weekend ousting of President Viktor Yanukovich.

    "At 7:00pm (17:00 GMT) we will take to the stage to present the new government to the square," Valeriy Patskan, a politician from the party of former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, said in a statement on the UDAR (Punch) party's website.

    The temporary authorities in Kiev are grappling with the dual threats of separatism and a looming debt default as they try to piece the ex-Soviet nation back together following months of turmoil.

    Healing the divide

    In an apparent bid to begin healing wounds in the divided nation, acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said he had dissolved an elite riot police unit known as the Berkut, despised by many for its heavy crackdown on the anti-government protesters.

    The anti-government protests started in November over Yanukovich's decision to ditch an historic European Union trade deal in favour of closer ties with Russia. It ended in a week of violence that claimed nearly 100 lives in Kiev.

    Yanukovich and his tight clique of security chiefs and administration insiders are widely believed to have since gone into hiding in the Russian-speaking southern peninsula of Crimea that is now threatening to secede from Ukraine.

    The interim leaders' headaches are compounded by Moscow's decision to freeze payments on a bailout package that Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to Yanukovich as his reward for rejecting closer EU ties.

    The Ukrainian government faces foreign debt payments of $13bn this year and has less than $18bn in its fast depleting coffers - a scenario that has forced it to seek as much as $35bn from Western states.

    Both the US and Britain have publicly backed the idea of putting together an economic rescue package for Ukraine that would be overseen by the International Monetary Fund.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Secretary William Hague also rejected Russia's claim on Tuesday that Ukraine was being forced to make a choice between the East and West.

    "This is not a zero-sum game, it is not a West versus East," Kerry said, after hosting Hague in Washington.

    But EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton wrapped up a two-day visit to Kiev on Tuesday by mentioning only a "short term" economic solution for Ukraine, while saying nothing about extending the billions of dollars in credit requested by interim leader Oleksandr Turchinov.

    'Berkut is no more'

    Little appears to unite the vast nation of 46 million - splintered between the Ukrainian-speaking west where pro-European sentiment runs high and a heavily Russified southeast - more than a shared aversion for the Berkut riot police.

    The elite units carried shields and Kalashnikov rifles as they cracked down on protesters in Kiev and brutally beat those detained, forcing one man to strip naked in the freezing cold and parade in front of a police camera in an incident that became infamous through the Internet.

    But Avakov announced on his Facebook account that he was dissolving the unit effective immediately. "The Berkut is no more," the 50-year-old wrote.

    Avakov promised to disclose further details on Wednesday and said nothing about how he would deal with a possible insurrection from one of the country's best-armed and trained forces - a 5,000-strong contingent with deployments in every part of Ukraine.

    Turchinov and his interim team have been branded by Russia as the leaders of an "armed mutiny", but the newcomers are winning backing from Western powers.

    SOURCE: AFP


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