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Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Kyiv Ukrainian president takes oath


KYIV, Ukraine - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Ukraine faces tough challenges but can count on Canada's continued support.

Harper is in Ukraine's capital of Kyiv for the inauguration of Petro Poroshenko, who took the oath of office as president Saturday morning.

"President Poroshenko and his administration have some tough challenges ahead. They will need to rebuild the country’s political and administrative systems and ensure economic stability and growth," Harper said in a statement.

Thousands gathered in sweltering heat as the candy billionaire was sworn in as their new leader.

"Crimea is, was and will be Ukrainian. There will be no trade-off," Poroshenko said in his inaugural address to the country's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.

Poroshenko said he hopes to negotiate a solution to the violence in his country's east, where pro-Russian separatist gunmen are continuing to cause unrest following Russia's annexation of Crimea in March — a move denounced by Harper and other Western leaders as an illegal act.

Poroshenko said he wants to grant amnesty "for those who do not have blood on their hands" but added he would not negotiate with the pro-Russian insurgents, calling them "gangsters."

"Canadians have always acted in support of the democracy and freedom of all people," Harper said in his statement. "We will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the citizens of Ukraine in the face of this aggression because it is the right thing to do."

As the prime minister headed for the ceremony this morning, the mood in the capital was subdued, with people strolling casually about in shirtsleeves under blue, sunny skies.

In the square outside the parliament, the sharp thundercrack of ceremonial gunfire was heard just after the swearing in, making some flinch.

The Maidan, Kyiv’s main protest point where more than 100 demonstrators were killed in February, was calm just before the inauguration, with small groups of people milling about what is still very much a fortress city, barricaded by piles of rubble tires.

Fighting continues to rage in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian militants.

However, Poroshenko met yesterday with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Normandy invasion ceremonies, and talks between Russia and Ukraine could start this weekend towards resolving the crisis.

Poroshenko was elected on May 25, in a ballot that was monitored by 500 Canadian observers.

The vote was called after his predecessor, pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, fled Ukraine in February following anti-Russian protests.

The popular uprising in Ukraine was sparked in November when Yanukovych reneged on an economic co-operation agreement with the European Union after pressure from Putin’s Kremlin.

Harper has said Ukraine's economic future depends on it looking westward to Europe rather than eastward to Russia.

The prime minister arrived Kyiv early Saturday morning after attending the 70th anniversary of D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, France.