Appearing in public for the first time since he fled to Russia, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said Friday that he would not stop fighting for the country's future.
He told reporters In the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don that he had been forced from power by "nationalist, pro-fascist gangsters," and he blamed the crisis on the West for "indulging" protesters seeking his overthrow.
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Yanukovych, 63, said lawlessness and chaos had followed an agreement he signed with his opponents last Friday, which was brokered by the European Union and was intended to end three months of crisis.
The agreement would have let him stay in power until early elections in December. But protesters, angered by about 100 deaths in clashes with police, shouted down the pact on Kiev's Independence Square.
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Dressed in a suit and tie, the former electrician denied that he had ordered police to shoot at protesters. He implied that demonstrators were responsible for the bloodshed in Kiev, and he praised the Berkut riot police—despised in Kiev and disbanded by Ukraine's new rulers—for their "courage" in withstanding gas bomb attacks by protesters.
"I want to ask for forgiveness for all those who are suffering and all those who suffered," Yanukovych said. "If I was in Ukraine I would bow before everyone."
Feared for his life
Yanukovych said he was still the legally elected president and had fled Ukraine only because he feared for his life and that of his family, adding that he is ready to return to Ukraine but only when his safety was guaranteed.
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He called on Ukrainians to reject the leadership of the country's new rulers, who appointed a new prime minister and cabinet Thursday and have set presidential elections for May 25.
Referring to unrest in Ukraine's Crimea region and the seizure of airports and other strategic points there by pro-Russia armed groups, Yanukovych said that was a "natural reaction to the action of bandits" in Kiev.
But he was adamant that the region, where ethnic Russians are the majority, should remain part of Ukraine but enjoy broad autonomy.
Yanukovych said he would not ask Russia for military support in dealing with a crisis in which power had been stolen by "a bunch of radicals."
He said he had spoken by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin after arriving in Russia with the help of "patriotic officers." They had agreed to meet at some point.
Accusing the West of pursuing "irresponsible" policies by patronizing the "Maidan"—the name given to the uprising against his regime—Yanukovych said he had trusted in the "decency" of Western ministers when he signed an agreement in which he made many compromises to end the crisis.
He added that the May presidential election was illegal and that he would not take part.
Putin on Ukraine
According to a Reuters report, Putin said Friday that there must be no further escalation of violence in Ukraine and that free elections are the best solution for the country.
Ukraine's interim government confirmed Friday that Russian forces had seized control of two airports in the Crimean peninsula—the only part of Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority and the last major bastion of support for Yanukovych, the report said.
Putin is in phone communication with British, German and EU leaders, the Kremlin told Reuters.
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British Prime Minister David Cameron told the Russian leader that all countries must respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and Cameron and Putin agreed that the international community should consider how to help Ukraine tackle its economic challenges, a Downing Street spokesman said.
—CNBC with Reuters reports