Viktor Yanukovych was sworn in as Ukraine\'s fourth president Thursday with the country still locked in crisis as his defeated election rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, clings to office.
"I, Viktor Yanukovych, elected president of Ukraine by the will of the people, swear the oath of loyalty to Ukraine," he said at a ceremony in parliament attended by a host of foreign dignitaries.
"I vow to defend through my actions the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine and the rights and freedoms of its citizens," he said.
The ceremony was marred by the absence of his defeated rival in the February 7 presidential elections, who has so far refused to quit office or recognise Yanukovych as the new president.
The new president is expected to return the country of 46 million bridging Russia and the European Union to a more Moscow-friendly course, in a reversal of the pro-Western policies of outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko.
But in a signal that he does not want to abandon EU integration, Yanukovych has chosen the EU\'s headquarters in Brussels for his first foreign trip Monday before heading to Moscow.
Yanukovych has called on Tymoshenko to resign gracefully after her narrow defeat by a margin of some 3.5 percent in February 7 presidential elections. But the charismatic prime minister has refused to budge.
Yanukovych will become Ukraine\'s fourth post-independence president after Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and the outgoing Yushchenko, who led the Orange Revolution of 2004 that raised hopes of reform but ultimately disappointed its supporters.
The president-elect has a controversial past that saw him jailed twice for theft and assault as a youth under the Soviet Union, although the convictions were later erased.
He is also accused of involvement in the vote-rigging in the 2004 election that sparked the Orange Revolution. He initially won but the courts ordered the vote to be re-run after they found mass irregularities. In the subsequent vote, Yanukovych lost to Yushchenko.
Tymoshenko has alleged that Yanukovych\'s victory in the February elections was marred by mass election fraud, even though international observers gave the polls a clean bill of health.
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