Ukraine Treasury 'Stripped' By Ousted Regime
Toppled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his regime have been accused of robbing the cash-stricken nation to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.
It came amid escalating tensions, with fighter jets being put on combat alert by Russia along its border with Ukraine, while armed men seized the parliament building and the regional government headquarters in the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea, and hoisted Russian flags.
It is also being reported Mr Yanukovych has been spotted in a luxury five-star hotel and spa outside Moscow, in an exclusive enclave favoured by Russia's super-rich.
Breaking his silence for the first time since fleeing the capital Kiev, the 63-year-old fugitive, who is wanted in Ukraine on charges of mass murder after police opened fire on demonstrators, released a statement insisting he is still president.
Mr Yanukovych has also reportedly announced he will hold a press conference on Friday in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.
Back at home he and his government are facing charges of stripping the country's coffers bare.
Shortly before being appointed as head of the crisis-hit country's national unity government, Arseny Yatseniuk said $37bn (£22bn) had disappeared in an "unknown direction", while $70bn (£42bn) had been siphoned out of the economy into offshore accounts.
Taking up his new post as prime minister, Mr Yatseniuk, who was a prominent protest leader, told parliament: "I want to report to you - the state treasury has been robbed and is empty."
Debt-hit Ukraine has said it needs $35bn (£21bn) over the next two years to avoid bankruptcy.
Mr Yatseniuk warned that given the perilous state of the nation's finances there was no other alternative but to take "extraordinarily unpopular measures".
The country is set to hold talks with the International Monetary Fund over a financial bail-out package, which is seen as vital for the country to be able to stabilise the currency.
Ukraine's new prime minister said the country's future lies in the European Union but with friendly relations with Russia.
But Russia has questioned the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian authorities, and has pledged to defend the rights of its "compatriots".
Crimea's parliament, which is currently being controlled by pro-Russian gunmen, has voted to hold a referendum on May 25 on the region's status.
A dawn raid on the region's capital of Simferopol saw up to 50 men in combat fatigues storm the official buildings, erect barricades, and put up signs saying "Crimea is Russian".
Crimea is an autonomous republic in the south of Ukraine, around 500 miles from the capital Kiev.
There have been mounting signs of separatism in the region, which has strong ties to Moscow and where the majority of the population are Russian speakers.
Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov, who is heading to Simferopol, has appealed for calm, and branded the armed raiders as "criminals in military fatigues".
He warned that any move by Russian troops off of their base in Crimea "will be considered a military aggression."
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered massive military exercises involving most of the military units in western Russia.
Later, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia had insisted that military exercises on the Ukraine border had previously been scheduled and were not related to Ukraine.
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel†has warned Russia that it must be transparent about the military exercises and not do anything that could be misinterpreted or "lead to miscalculation during a delicate time".
Moscow said it is prepared to work with the West on resolving the crisis in Ukraine, but that the interests of all Ukrainians must be taken into account.
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