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Ukraine's New Prime Minister Begins Forming Government

Ukraine's new acting prime minister has begun consultations on forming a new government, one day after his surprise appointment by President Viktor Yushchenko in a sweeping government overhaul. Mr. Yushchenko has broad public support in sacking the government in the wake of corruption allegations against some of his closest political allies.

In his first full day on the job as Ukraine's new acting prime minister, Yuri Yekhanurov is meeting with political party leaders in a bid to form a broad-based coalition that can carry out the reforms promised by last year's Orange Revolution.

No stranger to politics, Mr. Yekhanurov has held several top posts in the Ukrainian government during the past 15 years. He is described as a liberal economist with a strong reform record, having pioneered Ukraine's controversial privatization program in the 1990s. Many analysts in Kiev expect him to bring the sense of measured order needed after the political infighting that brought down the latest government.

Prime Minister Yekhanurov has said his main aim during, what he called, "this very complicated period" is ensuring stability.

In his first televised comments, Mr. Yekhanurov says what happened is over, adding that the country and its leadership need to move forward.

That sentiment was echoed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who says the situation must not be dramatized.

Mr. Putin told reporters in Berlin, on the sidelines of a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that he had telephoned President Yushchenko to offer Russia's assistance.

Mr. Putin, who backed Viktor Yanukovych, Mr. Yushchenko's presidential rival during last years hotly contested elections, said he was confident Ukraine would find its way out of the crisis.

Mr. Yanukovych fled Ukraine several weeks ago, reportedly because he was to be questioned about a separate corruption scandal, but has returned to Kiev. Since his loss last year, he has been heading up a new opposition party called the Ukrainian Party of the Regions.

In a statement posted on his party's computer website Thursday, Mr. Yanukovych called for early parliamentary and presidential elections. But his was a rare voice of dissent in an overall field of support, especially in the West.

The European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization expressed confidence the principles of European democratic reform, espoused by Viktor Yushchenko, would be followed.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who led his own people-power revolution, says he has no doubts President Yushchenko did the right thing in firing prime minister Yulia Timoshenko and Petro Poroshenko, who headed Ukraine's National Defense and Security Council.

The two had been engaged in an increasingly public power struggle, slowing the promised reforms that, in part, propelled Mr. Yushchenko to power.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a mediator during last year's electoral crisis in Ukraine, says recent events in Kiev show the switch to democracy is tough.