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Ukraine: President Refuses To Resign

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma this week (3 April) was interviewed by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. He discussed the opposition to his government and said that he did not intend to resign. Correspondent Askold Krushelnycky files this report:

Kyiv, 4 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma's second term in office -- he was re-elected in November 1999 -- has been dominated by accusations arising from the disappearance, and feared death, of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

Gongadze disappeared last September and later a headless corpse, thought to be his, was found outside Kyiv.

A former bodyguard of Kuchma, Mykola Melnychenko, says he secretly made tapes of Kuchma and his close associates after he planted a microphone in the president's private office. Some of these recordings have been published. They purport to have the president suggesting that Gongadze be kidnapped.

Kuchma says the recordings are fake. But they have fuelled mass demonstrations in Kyiv and calls by protesters and many politicians for Kuchma to resign.

Kuchma said in his interview with RFE/RL that the investigation into Gongadze's death has been marred by speculation and what he called many "dark stains" from the first days of the inquiry.

"We are completely open, please let's investigate the case together instead of doing what we have been doing until now -- engaging in blackmail, engaging in psychological warfare against Ukraine, against the state."

Kuchma said that all the facts were still not known and there was even a slim chance, which he prayed was true, that Gongadze was still alive.

He said that he did not believe that Melnychenko had made the recordings himself. Kuchma said: "I have grave doubts that Melnychenko was doing the listening. In my view, Melnychenko was an instrument who was exploited and them discarded."

Kuchma said that Melnychenko could return to Ukraine. He said: "I have said several times that we guarantee Melnychenko's safety, let him return. But he will have to account for his actions before Ukrainian law."

Kuchma said he would like to gaze into Melnychenko's eyes, but was certain that Melnychenko would avoid his look.

Kuchma said that he was not willing to hold a dialogue with the parliamentary opposition because it engaged in non-parliamentary and non-constitutional behavior. He said: "I am not going to conduct any dialogue with those forces which do not support the strategic road for Ukrainian development, which do not want Ukraine to be an independent country."

He also said that he was not considering resigning and rejected pressure for him to do so. He said he would certainly not make a sudden exit from politics the way former Russian President Boris Yeltsin had done.

"The language of ultimatums is not a language for speaking with government. I reject ultimatums and I'm not going to capitulate."

He also said that he would stridently oppose any pressures to transform Ukraine into a parliamentary republic rather than the present presidential one where the chief of state enjoys considerable power rather than merely figurehead status.

He said that he viewed a parliamentary system of government in present circumstances "absolutely negatively." Kuchma said: "It would simply mean the destruction of all of Ukraine. It is a threat to the very existence of Ukraine as a state."

Kuchma said that the Ukrainian parliament had failed to work properly and was disorganized. Kuchma added: "Today, in this epoch of transition what is needed is a strong executive government."

Kuchma said that nobody criticized France, which had a strong presidential form of government and nobody suggested that the United States should change to a parliamentary form of government

Kuchma said that, despite some problems, democracy was developing well in Ukraine. He said: "There are many signs obvious to the naked eye (that democracy exists in Ukraine). First of all the government is divided into three branches -- lawmaking, executive and judicial -- these are already signs of a democratic society. Others are that the constitution guarantees the rights and freedoms of individuals."

Kuchma also said that freedom of expression and a free press existed in Ukraine. But he added that, although the media was independent of government, that did not mean that it was independent of the influence of other individuals and groups.

Kuchma referred to the recent release from police custody of a popular woman politician, Yuliya Tymoshenko, who is an outspoken opponent of Kuchma and who he dismissed earlier this year from her post as deputy prime minister. He said he did not think that she was a future leader of Ukraine.

"I rule that out as of now. There is no woman in the Olympus (field of Ukrainian politics) who could attract attention with positive ideas, with constructive positions, with her work, with her devotedness to Ukraine and not her own interests."

Kuchma also said that he was not planning to dismiss Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yuschenko, whom repeated polls show is the country's most popular politician and whom many would like to succeed Kuchma as president.

He said: "I have said many times now that I am not preparing to dismiss Yuschenko. If I had wanted to do so, I would have a long time ago."