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28 February 2014 Last updated at 09:51 ET
Viktor Yanukovych said he would continue to fight for Ukraine’s future
Ukraine’s ex-President Viktor Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being ousted last week, telling a news conference in Russia he would fight for his country.
He said he was “not overthrown”, but was compelled to leave Ukraine after threats to his life.
Those who drove him from power were “young neo-fascist thugs”, he said.
He said current tensions in Crimea were “understandable” but stated his desire for Ukraine to remain united.
The focus of unrest in Ukraine has shifted to the Russian-majority Crimea region since Mr Yanukovych was ousted by Western-leaning opponents last Saturday.
It followed a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters who had taken over central Kiev since Mr Yanukovych rejected an EU trade deal in favour of one with Russia last November.
On Friday, Ukraine accused Russia of carrying out an “armed invasion” in Crimea by sending naval forces to occupy Sevastopol airport. Moscow has denied the claims.
“I intend to continue to struggle for the future of Ukraine, against terror and fear,” Mr Yanukovych told the news conference in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.
“I can’t find words to characterise this new authority. These are people who advocate violence – the Ukrainian parliament is illegitimate.
“What’s going on now is lawlessness, lack of authority, and terror. Decisions in parliament were taken under duress.”
He apologised to the Ukrainian people for not having “enough strength to keep stability” and for allowing “lawlessness in this country”.
He insisted he did not “flee anywhere”, explaining that his car was shot at as he left Kiev for the north-east city of Kharkiv and he was forced to move around Ukraine amid fears for the safety of himself and his family.
He said he arrived in Russia “thanks to a patriotically minded young officer” and was given refuge in Rostov, near the Ukrainian border, by an old friend.
Speaking in Russian, Mr Yanukovych said he would return to Ukraine “as soon as there are guarantees for my security and that of my family”.
But he ruled out taking part in elections planned for 25 May, describing them as “illegal”.
And he made clear his view that the only way out of the crisis is to implement an EU-backed compromise agreement he signed with opposition leaders last week before he was deposed.
He said the current turmoil in Crimea was “an absolutely natural reaction to the bandit coup that occurred in Kiev” and added that he was surprised by the restraint shown by Russian President Vladimir Putin so far.
But he also stressed that “military action in this situation is unacceptable” and said he wanted Crimea to remain part of Ukraine.
Earlier, Ukraine’s general prosecutor said he would ask Russia to extradite Mr Yanukovych on suspicion of mass murder following the deaths of more than 80 people in last week’s violent clashes between protesters and the police.
In other developments:
- Amid fears of hyperinflation, Ukraine’s central bank has put a 15,000 hryvnia (1,000 euro; £820) limit on daily cash withdrawals
- Ukraine’s parliament calls on the UN Security Council to discuss the unfolding crisis in Crimea.