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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yushchenko to Be Sworn Into Office on Sunday

APThe columns of the conservatory on Independence Square being wrapped in orange Thursday in preparation for the inauguration.
KIEV -- Parliament voted Thursday to hold President-elect Viktor Yushchenko's inauguration this coming Sunday, setting the stage for the transition to a new government for Ukraine following months of divisive political crisis.

President Vladimir Putin, who had supported his opponent Viktor Yanukovych during the election campaign, congratulated Yushchenko, whose office swiftly announced he would visit Moscow just a day after the inauguration. Yushchenko had indicated earlier that his first foreign visit as president would be to Russia, but the timing suggested a strong desire to smooth relations with Ukraine's giant, economically critical neighbor even as he pushes for closer integration with Western Europe.

Yushchenko's spokeswoman Irina Herashenko said the visit to Moscow would be followed a day later by a trip to Strasbourg, France, to address the European Parliament.

Putin's support for Yanukovych, who was seen as likely to nudge Ukraine closer into the Kremlin's sphere of influence, was viewed as an attempt to interfere in Ukraine, where many people in the east are native Russian speakers and fear a rise of Ukrainian nationalism under Yushchenko.

"Accept my congratulations and warmest wishes in connection with your election to the post of president of Ukraine," Putin said in a statement.

"The development of good-neighborly and equal relations with Ukraine is one of the most important national priorities of Russia," he said. "I am convinced that the subsequent deepening of our strategic partnership in full will fulfill the long-term interests of our peoples."

Putin's press service declined to comment immediately on Yushchenko's planned visit.

Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma also congratulated Yushchenko, according to his office. Kuchma, whose decade in power was marked by pressure against opposition forces and independent news media and allegations of corruption, had Yanukovych as his favored successor.

Details of the inauguration program were still being worked out as the Foreign Ministry was sending last-minute invitations to heads of state. The inauguration is to begin with Yushchenko taking the oath of office in the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament, followed by a military ceremony at Mariinsky Palace, the presidential ceremonial building.

Then, in what is likely to be the emotional highlight of the day, Yushchenko will make a speech at Independence Square, the center of the huge demonstrations that broke out after the Nov. 21 election in which he was declared the loser.

On Thursday, workers were draping the columns of the concert hall adjacent to the square in bright orange, Yushchenko's campaign color, which became the emblem of Ukrainians' discontent and hopes for change.

The November election results were annulled by the Supreme Court amid evidence of massive vote fraud, and Yushchenko won the Dec. 26 rerun.

Before dawn Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal of last month's election by Yanukovych, saying there was insufficient evidence to support his claim that millions of citizens were deprived of their right to vote.

Shortly before the decision was announced, government newspapers printed the results of December's revote. Publication of the results opened the way for parliament to set a date, and 309 of the chamber's 450 deputies voted in favor of holding the ceremony on Sunday.

Yanukovych representative Nestor Shufrich said the loser's camp would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, an attempt to undermine Yushchenko's standing among the Western European countries he aims to court for integration into the European Union.