Ukraine's outgoing President Leonid Kuchma has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the man he had earlier hoped would be his successor.
Ukraine's presidential press service says Mr. Kuchma accepted Prime Minister Yanukovych's resignation Wednesday - five days after he appeared on national television saying he could not serve in a government with, quote, "these authorities."
Mr. Yanukovych was referring to pro-reform opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko who, according to near final results, swept the presidency by more than two million votes. Ukraine's Central Election Commission is in the final days of vote counting and is expected to certify a winner any day.
The resignation of Mr. Yanukovych, who has served since 2002, immediately triggers the dissolution of his 20-member cabinet - a key demand of the tens-of-thousands of opposition supporters who protested in the streets of Kiev for 17 days late last year.
Nineteen-year-old Viktor traveled from a village in the south of Ukraine to participate in the protests. He has since stayed on in Kiev to try and find work in what he hopes will be a new, more prosperous Ukraine. Viktor says he is very happy President Kuchma signed the papers to, in his words, get rid of the Yanukovych government. He said it means he and the other protesters got what they struggled for, including Viktor Yushchenko as their new president.
President Kuchma has named Mykola Azarov as the new acting prime minister, but his term is likely to be brief, with the new government expected to be confirmed and sworn in by the end of this month.
Mr. Azarov is among those reportedly being considered by the apparent winner - Yushchenko - to be the next prime minister. But his candidacy is already drawing some criticism. Tuesday, members of Ukraine's Yabloko party held a brief street protest against Mr. Azarov, whom they see as linked to the outgoing regime.
In a sign of the growing power struggle over the post of prime minister, key Yushchenko aide Yulia Timoshenko Wednesday said that she felt she'd already been given the job by Mr. Yushchenko and that she hoped he would honor his word. She refers to earlier comments made by Mr. Yushchenko in which he said he would support her candidacy, as long as her more radical political leanings did not prove too polarizing for Ukraine's citizens.
Other likely contenders for the prime minister's job are former Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh, a strong favorite of local business leaders, and Petro Poroshenko, the head of parliament's budget committee.
The post of prime minister holds greater importance than ever due to constitutional changes the opposition agreed to with the outgoing government in the final days of last year. Those changes transfer key powers from the president to the prime minister.