Ukraine looked with hope to the future Saturday at the onset of the New Year after Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych resigned and all but admitted losing last weekend's historic presidential rerun vote.
Yushchenko still has to wait for the supreme court to confirm he won
In tumultuous scenes on Kiev's main Independence Square, 100,000 people packed into the city's central point to ring in the New Year with victorious opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who led a "rose" revolution in Tbilisi last year.
Speaking before the crowd as fireworks lit the night sky, Saakashvili hailed Ukraine's "orange revolution" that brought Yushchenko to power as "a triumph of good over evil."
Yushchenko -- the declared winner of Sunday's rerun presidential poll -- took the center stage to reiterate that "Ukrainians had been independent for 13 years, but now they are free."
The pro-West liberal leaders basked in the success of their respective peaceful uprisings against Soviet-era regimes as the clock struck midnight, in an appearance sure to irritate Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.
Yanukovich resigned from his post and said his appeals over the Dec. 26 vote were unlikely to be granted, but stopped short of bringing Ukraine's six-week election saga to an end by conceding defeat.
"I have made a decision and am formally submitting my resignation," Yanukovych said in a televised address. "I find it impossible to occupy any post in a government headed by these authorities … Concerning the election results, we are keeping up the fight but I don't have much hope for a just decision from the central election commission and the supreme court."
His appeal to the supreme court over alleged irregularities in the election means Yushchenko's official confirmation as the winner could be put off for weeks as the legal wrangling drags on.
Yushchenko backers jubilant
But in Independence Square, Yushchenko supporters savored the taste of victory.
New Year's firework at Kiev's Independence Square
"This a historic moment. This was the only place to be for New Year," said Mikhailo, in his sixties, while his wife Tamara exclaimed: "I'm really happy, I've never been as happy in my whole life."
"Before it was night, now it is day," said 57-year-old businessman Vassyl Possidko.
Moscow-backed Yanukovych, who has accused the United States of engineering the mass opposition protests, repeated his assertion that "external forces" were responsible for his defeat in the Dec. 26 vote. But he got no support from Ukraine's outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, who called on the nation during his New Year address to "accept the democratic choice" made in the presidential poll.
"In 2005 Ukraine will have a new president and the whole Ukraine must accept this democratic choice as its own -- because this man will need your support," he said without naming the election's declared winner, Yushchenko.
The Ukrainian leader had groomed his prime minister to succeed him as he steps down after a decade of often strong-arm rule, but he abandoned him after striking a deal with the opposition to give more powers to parliament, where he can still wield influence.
Yushchenko's "orange revolution" marked the second year in a row that peaceful protests headed by a Western-leaning leader swept out a Russia-friendly regime in an ex-Soviet nation. Moscow has accused the United States of fomenting the unrest to install allies in its strategic backyard, charges that Washington has denied.But opposition movements in authoritarian-leaning former Soviet republics and Russia have hailed the peaceful uprisings.
Yushchenko mounted 17 days of mass protests after he refused to concede defeat to Yanukovich in a Nov. 21 runoff that was annulled because of fraud.