Criminal case against him, others for "mass murder"

Ukraine’s new authorities issued an arrest warrant for ousted President Victor Yanukovych over “mass murder,” and flagged off a presidential election campaign amid a widening rift between Russia and the West over the regime change in the former Soviet state.

Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said a criminal case had been opened against Mr. Yanukovych and other officials accused of “mass murder of peaceful civilians.”

Mr. Yanukovych, displaced by a decision of Parliament, fled Kiev after signing a Europe-brokered accord with the opposition to end the three-month crisis that claimed more than 80 lives.

Mr. Avakov said Mr. Yanokovych had been last spotted in the pro-Russian Crimea Peninsula, which houses Russia’s major naval base in Sevastopol. Ukraine’s Parliament on Monday declared the start of a presidential election campaign on February 25, with the voting set for May 25. Russia and the West have sharply disagreed over the events in Ukraine. While Western countries have supported Ukraine’s new authorities and promised financial aid, Russia questioned their legitimacy and accused them of using “dictatorial” and “terrorist” methods to suppress dissent and infringe on the rights of ethnic Russians.

In a statement issued on Monday the Russian Foreign Ministry lashed out at the West for pursuing “geopolitical self-interest” in Ukraine and advancing a “forceful regime change.”

Russia warned Ukraine’s new leaders to heed the “concerns” of the Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, as well as the Crimea and Sevastopol.

An assembly of Ukraine’s eastern provinces on Saturday refused to recognise the legitimacy of the new authorities in Kiev. A 20,000-strong rally in Sevastopol on Sunday voted to replace a Kiev-appointed Mayor with Russian businessman Alexei Chaly and to stop sending their taxes to Kiev.

In another Crimean city, Kerch, protesters tore down the Ukrainian flag from the City Hall and replaced it with the Russian flag.

Protesters in both Crimean cities have set up self-defence forces to guard against possible moves by Kiev to crush their resistance. With Russia now likely to put on hold the disbursement of the remaining $12 billion out of its $15-billion bailout for Ukraine, the new leaders in Kiev have appealed to the West to drum up a huge rescue package.

Ukraine’s Acting Finance Minister Yuriy Kolobov said the country needed $35 billion by the end of next year to avoid default. He called for an international donors’ conference involving representatives of the EU, the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund to come up with an emergency aid package.

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