Ukraine hunts its fugitive president

Interim leader huddles with European Union, aiming to revisit closer ties with the West

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SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- With Viktor Yanukovych on the run, Ukraine's interim government drew up a warrant Monday for the fugitive president's arrest in the killing of anti-government activists last week, while Russia issued its strongest condemnation yet of the new leaders in Kiev, deriding them as "Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks."

Parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchinov, the interim president, moved quickly to open a dialogue with the West, saying at a meeting with the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, that the course toward closer integration with Europe and EU financial assistance were "key factors of stable and democratic development of Ukraine."

In a statement released by his office, Mr. Turchinov said Ukraine and the EU should immediately revisit the closer ties Mr. Yanukovych abandoned in November in favor of a $15 billion bailout loan from Russia that set off a wave of protests. Within weeks, the protests expanded to include outrage over corruption and human rights abuses, leading to calls for the president's resignation.

Mr. Yanukovych, who fled Kiev on Saturday after the opposition took over government buildings, has reportedly gone to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, a pro-Russia area.

Calls have been mounting in Ukraine to put Mr. Yanukovych on trial after a tumultuous presidency in which he amassed powers, enriched his allies and family, and cracked down on protesters. Anger boiled over last week after 82 people, primarily demonstrators, were killed in clashes with security forces in the bloodiest violence in Ukraine's post-Soviet history.

Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakhov said on his official Facebook page that a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Mr. Yanukovych and several other officials for the "mass killing of civilians."

Mr. Yanukovych's last public appearance was in a televised interview Saturday from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, a base of his support, where he insisted that he was still president and would not leave the country. He then tried to fly out of Donetsk but was stopped and went to Crimea on Sunday, Mr. Avakhov said. There, Mr. Yanukovych freed his official security detail from its duties and drove to an unknown location, turning off all forms of communication, Mr. Avakhov said.

"Yanukovych has disappeared," he added.

Security has been tightened across Ukraine's borders, the Interfax news agency quoted the State Border Guard service as saying.

Activist Valeri Kazachenko said Mr. Yanukovych must be arrested and brought to trial. "He must answer for all the crimes he has committed against Ukraine and its people," he said, as thousands continued to flock to Independence Square to light candles, lay flowers where dozens were killed and watch a video screen showing photos of the dead. "Yanukovych must be tried by the court of the people, right here in the square."

Mr. Turchinov, the parliament speaker, is now nominally in charge of this strategic country of 46 million whose ailing economy faces the risk of default and whose loyalties are sharply torn between Europe and longtime ruler Russia. He said he hopes to form a new coalition government by today.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev strongly condemned the new authorities, saying they came to power as a result of an "armed mutiny" and their legitimacy is causing "big doubts."

Tensions, meanwhile, have been mounting in the Crimea peninsula in southern Ukraine. Russia maintains a large naval base in Sevastopol that has strained relations between the countries for two decades. Pro-Russian protesters gathered Monday in front of city hall in the port of Sevastopol, chanting "Russia! Russia!"

Sevastopol's city administration chief quit Monday amid the turmoil, and protesters replaced a Ukrainian flag near the city hall building with a Russian flag.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's position on the turmoil in Ukraine will be crucial to the future of Crimea and to Ukraine. Mr. Putin spoke by phone Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the German government said the two agreed that Ukraine's "territorial integrity must be respected." German government spokesman Steffan Seibert said Monday that Ukraine's new leaders should consider the interests of the south and east -- the pro-Russian sections of Ukraine -- in the composition of a new government.


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