Ukraine's president sacks squabbling government


Ukraine's president sacks squabbling government

Yushchenko accuses orange revolution allies of infighting

Tom Parfitt in Moscow

Friday September 9, 2005

The Guardian

Bitter personal rivalries between the leaders of Ukraine's "orange revolution" forced Viktor Yushchenko to sack his government yesterday, plunging the country into fresh political crisis.

The president blamed a "lack of team spirit" for his move, and attacked his firebrand prime minister, Yulia Timoshenko, saying she was obsessed with self-promotion.

The fragile unity of the team that brought hundreds of thousands of supporters on to the streets of the former Soviet state last year was shattered this week when senior figures accused each other of nepotism and taking bribes.

Mr Yushchenko's decision followed the resignations of the security and defence council chief, Petro Poroshenko, and the deputy prime minister, Mykola Tomenko, yesterday morning.

On Monday a senior presidential aide, who had implicated Mr Poroshenko and other members of the president's team in systematic corruption, also resigned. The accusations were denied.

Mr Yushchenko's dismissal of Ms Timoshenko and her cabinet raised the spectre of an irreparable split in the team that crafted his rise to power.

Some analysts speculated that the president had acted to cut short the ambitions of his charismatic prime minister, who has long threatened to mutate into a powerful rival.

Mr Yushchenko told reporters in Kiev yesterday he had sacked ministers because he could not "smooth out" conflicts between different branches of the government. "My friends who went through so much with me did not justify my trust."

He singled out Ms Timoshenko for criticism, saying: "What has come to the foreground is the promotion of either her or her political force."

He added: "I set one task for the new team - to work in a united team. I do not want any more of the intrigues between two or three people that were determining the state policy."

The president named a little-known ally, Yuri Yekhanurov, the head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional administration, as acting prime minister and instructed him to form a new cabinet within days.

Mr Yushchenko was swept to the presidency on a tide of euphoria in December when he won a rerun of a disputed election following weeks of street protests that saw thousands of his followers camping in central Kiev.

Expectations were high that he could sweep away the tainted regime of the former president Leonid Kuchma, but his team quickly became mired in recriminations.

Mr Yushchenko's personal ratings took a knock last month when his son was criticised for living a playboy lifestyle.

The fight among the president's allies centred on rivalry between two of the orange revolution's leading figures. Ms Timoshenko, once known as the Gas Princess, is said to have been in open conflict with Mr Poroshenko, a confectionery magnate nicknamed the Chocolate King who helped bankroll the uprising and had hoped to become premier.

"Yushchenko spent all his time trying to make peace between those two," said Vassily Stoyakin, the director of the centre of political marketing in Kiev. "But everyone knew there was no hope of achieving it."

Under legal changes that Mr Yushchenko was forced to adopt to secure support after the revolution, the powers of the presidency will be severely eroded in favour of the prime minister early next year.

A Moscow-based analyst, Roman Manyekin, said: "There is a struggle to decide who will get the premiership and lead a revitalised orange movement that is distanced from the quarrels of recent months."

It is thought that Mr Poroshenko - a loyal ally of the president - could emerge the winner, he said.

The fight for political power is exacerbated by a clash between economic clans in Mr Yushchenko's team who are vying for control of a programme to re-privatise state assets that were hived off to allies of Mr Kuchma.

Mr Yushchenko said yesterday he wanted both Mr Poroshenko and Ms Timoshenko to remain in government, but that it was unclear whether either of them would take the prime minister's office.

Ukraine's relations with Russia looked likely to worsen yesterday after Moscow and Berlin ratified a deal for a multi-billion-pound gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to supply Siberian gas to Germany and western Europe.

The deal will allow the Kremlin to avoid "unfriendly" countries such as Ukraine and Poland that can threaten to increase transit tariffs.





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