Ukraine president fires prime minister

Reform government collapses, key allies from `Orange Revolution' quit

September 09, 2005|By Kim Murphy | Kim Murphy,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - The pro-Western government that swept to power in Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" collapsed yesterday when President Viktor A. Yushchenko fired his popular prime minister and accepted the resignations of other key political allies.

Paralyzed with savage infighting among his supporters and stung by allegations of corruption surrounding the new democratic government, Yushchenko emptied the top ranks of his administration in a bid to reassert his leadership of the tumultuous nation of 47 million on the eastern edge of Europe.

"The team's unity, unfortunately, has become an extremely acute problem. Interpersonal conflicts have ... begun to affect state affairs," he said. "It is very difficult, but today I must remove this Gordian knot."

The president said he would appoint liberal economist Yuri Yekhanurov, a longtime ally and former economy minister, to head a new government as acting prime minister. Yekhanurov, an early architect of Ukraine's post-communist privatization, is governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region in east Ukraine.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the sacked prime minister whose popularity has been one of Yushchenko's most valuable weapons, signaled that she will join the opposition in the March 2006 parliament elections that will determine whether the pro-reform team can hold onto power and continue Ukraine's drive toward joining the European Union.

"She's not going to work with Yushchenko," her spokesman, Vasily Chepinoga, said in a telephone interview, "because Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko see the main strategic ways of developing the country in a completely different way."

The firings followed months of increasingly uneasy relations between the president and Tymoshenko, whose populist moves to raise pensions and salaries, tax businesses, reverse shady privatization deals and control gasoline prices have been blamed for stifling economic growth and undermining Yushchenko's free-market policies.

Soaring food and energy prices have led to widespread public disenchantment, fueled by the resignation of two top Yushchenko aides who claimed the president had allowed the new government to become tainted by the presence of several corrupt senior advisers.

A recent poll of Ukrainians by the Kiev-based Razumkov Center found that only 37 percent of respondents think the new authorities are better than those ousted when hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko supporters swept into the streets last fall and demanded the new elections that unseated former Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovych.

"This research is a confirmation that our society is gradually growing free of its illusions," Yuri Yakymenko, head of the Razumkov Center's political office in Kiev, said in a telephone interview. "After the Orange Revolution, we had very high public expectations. At first, those expectations gave huge support both to the president and to the government.

"But later, the activity of the government itself, and especially the conflict right in the center of power, all of this slowly rid the public of these expectations."

The crisis has been long in the making, emerging not only out of the widening policy gap between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko but also from a sharp rift between the former prime minister and Petro Poroshenko, a wealthy chocolate manufacturer who resigned yesterday as secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.

Analysts said Poroshenko has angled to force Tymoshenko out and replace her as prime minister. And presidential chief of staff Oleksandr Zinchenko unleashed a firestorm this week when he resigned and accused "a small group of adventurists" outside the president's inner circle, most notably Poroshenko, of corruption.

"Corruption and bribery is again escalating. In many cases, the scale of it surpasses that of the past," Zinchenko said at a news conference Monday.

"Step by step, they are implementing their plan to use power for their own enrichment, to privatize and to grab everything they can."

Poroshenko has denied the allegations, and Yushchenko appeared to defend him yesterday, even as he moved to dismiss the government.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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