Yushchenko puts Ukraine at the heart of Europe as he takes presidential oath

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Viktor Yushchenko, the man who led Ukraine's "Orange Revolution", was finally sworn in yesterday as President and immediately vowed to seek a place for the country in the heart of a "united Europe".

Viktor Yushchenko, the man who led Ukraine's "Orange Revolution", was finally sworn in yesterday as President and immediately vowed to seek a place for the country in the heart of a "united Europe".

During a day of celebrations, Mr Yushchenko took an oath of office in the Ukrainian parliament and then went to the central Independence Square in the capital, Kiev, to repeat the pledge in front of hundreds of thousands of jubilant supporters.

He told a cheering crowd that closer ties with the West and the European Union were necessary for Ukraine's future prosperity. adding: "Our way to the future is the way of a united Europe. We, along with the people of Europe, belong to one civilisation. We share similar values. Our place is in the European Union. We are no longer on the edge of Europe. We are situated in the centre of Europe."

The speech was a demonstration of Mr Yushchenko's intent to ensure that Ukraine follows in the footsteps of three neighbours; Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, all former Soviet Union countries which have now joined the European Union.

As long as the previous regime of the pro-Russian former president, Leonid Kuchma, was in power there was little chance that Ukraine would become eligible for EU or Nato membership.

But Mr Yushchenko said his new administration would introduce the democratic and economic reforms necessary to make Ukraine an attractive future member.

He also promised to root out rampant corruption, lawlessness and abuse of human rights, which had become commonplace during Mr Kuchma's 10-year reign.

More than 60 representatives of other countries, among them presidents and prime ministers, attended the ceremonies in parliament and on the square. The guests included the outgoing US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and the former Czech president, Vaclav Havel, who had expressed a special desire to attend.

It was in the same central square that mass demonstrations by anti-government protesters, sporting clothing and banners in the orange adopted by Mr Yushchenko as his campaign colour, denounced as a fraud the results of the 21 November elections. The poll was later dismissed by Ukraine's Supreme Court and Mr Yushchenko decisively won a fresh ballot, which was held on 26 December.

During the stand-off, tens of thousands of protesters lived in a tent camp near the square and Mr Yushchenko and his senior political colleagues addressed supporters there almost daily despite often harsh weather. The new President said the square will go into Ukrainian history as a symbol of the country's desire for democracy.

In a tribute to the Orange Revolution, Mr Yushchenko recalled the period as one "when the heart of Ukraine was beating on this square. Ukraine has opened a new page in its history, and Independence Square has a special place in it. It is a symbol of a free nation that believes in its future".

Kiev was a sea of orange as celebrations ran late into the night yesterday. Most people wore or waved something orange and buildings were draped in huge orange banners. The inauguration followed weeks of delays as the old guard tried to cling on to power.

Mr Yushchenko's first foreign visit as President will be a trip today to Moscow as a conciliatory gesture to mend relations after Mr Putin's open backing for his opponent.

Mr Yushchenko has pledged that Ukraine will only build relations with Russia on an equal basis and in a way that will not obstruct Kiev's declared ambitions to join the EU and Nato.

The Moscow trip is the first duty in a hectic schedule for the coming week during which the new President will address the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. He will also travel to Poland on Thursday for the 60th anniversary of the Soviet army's liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

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