| 6.8°C Belfast

Yanukovych rejects military action


Viktor Yanukovych, left, with Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP)

Viktor Yanukovych, left, with Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP)

Viktor Yanukovych, left, with Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP)

Fugitive Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych is pledging to fight for his country's future but says he will not ask for military assistance. It is his first public appearance since disappearing from Ukraine.

"I intend to keep fighting for the future of Ukraine," he told a news conference today in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

Yanukovych said he supports Crimea's residents who are worried about "nationalists" in Kiev but that use of force is "unacceptable".

"Any military action in this situation is unacceptable," he said.

Armed gunmen took control of the two main airports in the strategic peninsula of Crimea today. Russia denied involvement.

He spoke as t he Swiss government ordered financial institutions to freeze any assets belonging to Yanukovych and people close to him.

The government said the order is effective immediately and the decision was taken in co-ordination with other financial centres.

It said the move was an attempt to "prevent any risk of misappropriation of Ukrainian government property".

The statement didn't specify how much, if any, money Yanukovych and his entourage have in Switzerland.

Meanwhile Ukraine's Prosecutor General says it is preparing to seek his extradition.

Prosecutors said he is wanted on suspicion of mass murder in last week's violent clashes between protesters and police, in which more than 80 people were killed.

Yanukovych spoke in Russian during the press conference. A native Russian speaker, he would speak publicly in Ukrainian in Kiev.

Yanukovych insisted he "did not flee anywhere" but left for the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. He said he was "forced" to leave the country when he was in Crimea after his family received threats. Asked how he managed to get to Russia, the fugitive president said he got out "thanks to patriotic officers who did their duty and helped me to save my life".

The fugitive president mentioned that he came to Rostov-on-Don to seek temporary shelter from an "old friend".

Yanukovych said he had not met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia but talked with him on the phone, adding that he hopes the Russian leader will find time to see him.

The Ukrainian president lambasted the West for allegedly betraying a February 21 compromise agreement between the government and the opposition, saying that recent actions by the opposition run counter to the EU-brokered pact.

Yanukovych dismissed reports of opulence at a villa outside Kiev, calling them "pretty pictures" and pledging to prove in court that the residence did not belong to him.