Ukrainians protest constitutional changes

Reforms meant to bring nation in line with Europe

December 27, 2003|By Kim Murphy | Kim Murphy,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - Opposition politicians armed with sirens and megaphones blocked all action in Ukraine's parliament for the fourth consecutive day yesterday in a tense standoff over constitutional reforms that would phase out general elections for president and instead charge parliament with selecting a head of state.

Calling the proposal an attempt by Ukraine's ruling powers to hold on to control of the country, opposition leaders physically blocked access to the rostrum in parliament and threatened to launch public protests over the reform measure, adopted by voice vote.

"We will continue this standoff indefinitely. We don't rule out that this struggle may go out into the streets, and then the Georgian variant of events may become inevitable," said opposition legislator Andrei Shkil, referring to the nonviolent popular protests last month in neighboring Georgia which succeeded in unseating former President Eduard A. Shevardnadze.

"They may call this political reform, but we call it an anti-constitutional coup," Shkil said in a telephone interview. "This reform deprives people of their inalienable right to elect the country's president."

Proponents say the proposed reforms would transfer more power to the parliament and would put Ukraine in line with many European countries whose presidents also are designated by the legislative branch.

"Right now, most political and economic power is concentrated in the hands of the president, whereas the parliament has very little leverage," said legislator Stepan Grish, coordinator of the pro-government parliament majority. "We want to change this system, and we think this is what the country needs to continue its democratic development."

The proposed amendments, adopted Wednesday on a voice vote of 276 deputies, would allow the general elections to proceed as scheduled in October, but would limit the victor to a two-year term. Beginning in 2006, the parliament would select presidents who would serve five-year terms.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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