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Ukrainian Parliament Gives Presidential Powers To Speaker


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. In Ukraine, the seats of political power in the capital city are empty. The country's parliament voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovych. This morning, they gave temporary presidential powers to the speaker of parliament, but it is still not clear exactly who is in charge. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is with us now from the capital, Kiev. Soraya, it seemed that many months passed in Ukraine where the political unrest was percolating but slowly, and now everything has changed in a couple days.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Oh, yes. It's been a whirlwind 48 hours, if you will. And basically what's happened is that after an international deal that was signed that would have created a unity, or I should say, power-sharing-type arrangement where now-former President Viktor Yanukovych would have had to reduce some of this presidential power. You know, just hours after that deal was signed by European ministers and the opposition, he fled and he left. And the parliament quickly moved to dismiss him and establish themselves as, you know, the sort of the authority at the moment to keep the country running. Police are nowhere to be found. Self-defense forces have taken over security in Kiev, in and around Kiev. And last night, the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was imprisoned, many say because she was Yanukovych's enemy rather than, you know, a controversial gas deal, which he apparently had signed with Russia, she was freed and showed up on stage here in Independence Square, which, of course, has been the focal point of the activities. And she called on protesters to stay until they get an honest government.

MARTIN: Soraya, the attention had been on that main square where protesters have been for months. It has now shifted to the residents of the ousted president. You just returned from there I understand. Can you give us a sense of the scene?

NELSON: Well, it's chaos this morning, you know, to go out there. It seems like every Ukrainian - this is a Sunday, of course - and they've decided to take their families to see the place where this president lived. It's a very luxurious estate in a very luxurious development that regular Ukrainians didn't have access to. And the estate itself where he lived, I mean, it's just - it's almost gaudy, perhaps it's a personal perception, but it's rather gaudy. It's sort of like a giant log cabin meets Greek architecture, faux Greek architecture with all sorts of strange statues in the gardens and very carefully manicured plants and grounds and he has a zoo there. And in fact, inside, people are not being allowed inside because they are trying to prevent vandalism and looting. Inside, though, he has even more strange things besides golden shower heads. We're talking about a wine collection with his pictures on it. And it's just something that average Ukrainians are just - on one hand, it's nice for them to be able to see this because they just feel free of this man, but on the other hand, they were just absolutely shocked by what they were seeing.

MARTIN: And just briefly, Soraya, you mentioned police are nowhere to be found throughout Kiev. Are there larger concerns about looting in this political vacuum right now?

NELSON: Well, there's something that a lot of people are talking about and certainly there have been incidents already. I mean, these neighborhood patrols that are taking over, some of them apparently are engaging in criminal activities. There are reports of robberies and the like. But certainly, the scene this morning is quite peaceful. These defense forces look quite determined to keep some sort of peace until this country can, you know, get on its feet again.

MARTIN: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reporting from the capital city Kiev in Ukraine. Thanks so much, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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