Ukraine's parliament voted yesterday to send fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych to be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for "serious crimes" committed during violent antigovernment protests in which scores were killed.
A resolution, overwhelmingly supported by the assembly, linked Yanukovych (pictured), who was ousted on Saturday and is now on the run, to police violence against protesters which it said had led to the deaths of more than 100 citizens from Ukraine and other states.
The Hague-based court said it would need a request from the government of Ukraine giving it jurisdiction over the deaths.
With early elections set for May 25, one of Ukraine's most prominent opposition figures, retired world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, confirmed he would run for president.
Yanukovych's archrival, former prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, is widely seen as a top contender for the post. But her aide said she had not yet declared whether she would run.
The Ukrainian parliament, meanwhile, delayed the formation of a new government, reflecting the country's political tensions and economic challenges.
Parliament speaker Oleksander Turchinov, who was named Ukraine's interim leader after Yanukovych fled the capital, said that a new government should be in place by tomorrow, instead of yesterday, as he had earlier indicated.
Yanukovych was indicted for "mass murder" on Monday over the shooting of demonstrators and is now on the wanted list, having last been seen at Balaklava in Crimea, near Russia's Sevastopol naval base.
An aide said to be on the run with Yanukovych was shot in the leg, his spokesman said. It was not clear where the aide, Andriy Klyuev, was, or whether he was with the fugitive leader.
The assembly resolution said former interior minister Vitali Zakharchenko and former prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka, who are also being sought by the authorities, should also be sent for trial at the international court.
"Parliament asks the International Criminal Court to hold Viktor Yanukovych and other high-level people criminally responsible for issuing and carrying out openly criminal orders", the resolution said.
Authorities under Yanukovych had systematically abused their power. Police tortured protesters, including holding activists naked in temperatures of 15 degrees below freezing, the resolution said.
The Hague-based International Criminal Court, which since its founding in 2002 has handled only cases from Africa, said it could intervene if Ukraine requested it to.
"A government can make a declaration accepting the court's jurisdiction for past events," said court spokesman Fadi el-Abdallah, and it would then be up to the court's prosecutor to decide whether or not to open an investigation.
Ukraine never signed the treaty that created the ICC, meaning the court has no automatic jurisdiction over recent events in the country. If the government formally invites it in, however, the court would have the power to investigate.
But a decision to invite the court in will not automatically lead to an investigation, and nor will Ukraine have any say over who might be investigated.
Acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said Yanukovych was wanted for the "mass murder of peaceful citizens".
Western diplomats in Kiev said they had no idea where the president was on Monday.
While apparently hopping from one city to another, Yanukovych has been publicly abandoned by many former associates, and all attempts to rally support have apparently been in vain.
According to Avakov, Yanukovych spent a day in the city of Kharkiv, on the Russian border, and then flew to the eastern city of Donetsk, his home city, by helicopter on Saturday. From there he tried to leave the country by plane but was prevented from doing so by border guards. He then re-formed his cortege and drove to Crimea, a journey of about 700 kilometres.
Avakov said on Monday that Yanukovych was last seen leaving a private residence in Balaklava at about midnight on Sunday. He was accompanied by bodyguards who had volunteered to travel with him.
If Yanukovych spent the night in Balaklava, he must have gone to great pains to slip quietly in and out of the historic port on the Black Sea coast where his son is rumoured to have built a yacht club.
A local television station claimed he was at the Russian naval base in Sevastopol, the most pro-Russian part of Crimea and perhaps one of the more obvious destinations for the president. The channel claimed that he would board a Russian naval vessel and sail to Russia.
But officials in Sevastopol said they had no knowledge of Yanukovych's whereabouts.
Additional reporting by The Guardian