Ukraine confirms pro-Western PM with mammoth tasks ahead
Ukraine's parliament on Thursday confirmed pro-Western Arseniy Yatsenyuk as premier to lead a new coalition government, while fresh attacks in the east provided a reminder of the steep challenges ahead.
In a widely expected move, the Verkhovna Rada parliament backed Arseniy Yatsenyuk to remain as prime minister in its first sitting since pro-European parties won an overwhelming majority at polls in October.
Yatsenyuk -- a bespectacled economic liberal who has held the position since the toppling of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in February -- admitted the new government faced a mammoth task to try to drag his ex-Soviet nation back from the brink of collapse.
"On our shoulders rests the weight of historical responsibility -- to preserve the state and win our independence," Yatsenyuk told lawmakers ahead of the vote, in which he won the backing of 341 deputies out of 390.
"The country is at war and the people are in trouble."
His confirmation came as the military said four more civilians -- including a 12-year-old child -- had been killed in clashes in east Ukraine, where government forces are still engaged in daily fighting with pro-Russian separatist rebels.
A patrol of three monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also reported coming under fire from a rocket-propelled grenade and anti-aircraft gun as they were escorted by the Ukrainian military in the conflict zone Wednesday.
The RPG hit some 150 metres (yards) from the monitors' vehicle as it passed between two Ukrainian checkpoints near the town of Shumy while the anti-aircraft rounds hit just two to three metres away, the OSCE said in a statement.
Although there were no injuries, the incident comes after the OSCE mission -- which is monitoring a tattered September ceasefire between government forces and rebels -- said last week that monitors were "deliberately" shot at for the first time by unidentified uniformed personnel.
- New EU blacklist -
Meanwhile, the European Union added five separatist groups and 13 individuals to a blacklist for their role in rebel elections this month in the east, which Kiev and Western countries have refused to recognise.
The decision taken by the 28 EU ambassadors "responds to the separatist vote which undermined... the implementation of the Minsk protocol," a diplomatic source said, referring to the ceasefire deal signed in the Belarussian capital in September.
The names of those blacklisted will be published on Saturday, adding to a previous list of 23 entities and 119 individuals facing asset freezes and travel bans.
Those include close allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian oligarchs and rebel leaders -- all accused of fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine.
NATO's top military commander, US General Philip Breedlove, repeated accusations Wednesday that Russian troops were inside east Ukraine "training, equipping, giving backbone" to rebel forces.
Moscow fiercely rejects any claims that it is involved in the fighting in east Ukraine but gives open political backing to the rebels, who now boast the heavy weaponry of a regular army.
- Foreign corruption chief -
The conflict will weigh heavily on the new government, which should be unveiled next week and hinges on the political will of both Yatsenyuk and President Petro Poroshenko.
The five-party coalition has set itself an ambitious programme of reform as it seeks to impress international lenders, reboot the crippled economy and root out pervasive graft.
In a speech to parliament, Poroshenko called for a foreigner to head the country's new anti-corruption office in a bid to boost international legitimacy after years of damaging corruption scandals.
"I suggest inviting a person from outside Ukraine to this post," he said.
"No-one who is the godfather of anyone else's child or anyone's in-law or brother. A technocrat equally distant from all political forces whom we all trust and who will demonstrate the effectiveness of our actions."
Ukraine's economy and currency have tanked since the revolution in February.
The war in the east has sapped around one billion dollars from the country's budget, while also cutting off the region's coal mines and steel mills which brought in nearly a third of Ukraine's foreign currency earnings last year.
Yatsenyuk warned on Wednesday that the economy could decline by seven percent this year.
© 2014 AFP