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Ukraine: Yushchenko Supporters Foil Confidence Vote

Supporters in parliament of reformist Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko yesterday foiled an attempt by the prime minister's critics to vote through a no-confidence motion that would effectively dismiss Yushchenko from the post. But RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky reports the prime minister will now face such a vote tomorrow.

Kyiv, 25 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- An alliance of the Communist Party and parties loyal to individual businessmen yesterday tried to hold a vote of no confidence in Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko.

The anti-Yushchenko alliance had previously demonstrated it had the numbers to secure a majority and dismiss the prime minister from his job.

But deputies who support Yushchenko successfully argued that parliamentary regulations do not permit a no-confidence vote when the prime minister is not physically present in the country. Yushchenko had departed in the morning (24 April) on a previously scheduled visit to Greece.

Other Yushchenko supporters tried to disrupt the parliamentary session by physically blocking the podium to speakers they felt were hostile to the prime minister.

Eventually, parliamentarians agreed to hold the vote on Thursday (26 April) when Yushchenko will have returned.

One of those obstructing the podium was right-wing Republican Party member Sean Khmara. He told RFE/RL: "Communists and criminal oligarchs have tried what is in effect a coup against the Ukrainian state. We must use any methods to block them."

Around 2,000 of Yushchenko's supporters loudly demonstrated outside the parliament, and 10 students entered the second day of a protest fast in support. There were also demonstrations for Yushchenko in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Before Yushchenko left for Greece he defended his government's record and said that he was not going "to privatize" the government by trying to make deals with some of his opponents to save his job.

He said his critics had not tried to engage in real dialogue and tried to pass off the improvements in the economy as caused by a general upturn in the region -- while trying to pin the blame for everything bad in Ukraine on him.

"There are attempts to blame us for practically all the ills in Ukraine's short history, from Adam to Eve (absolutely everything). It sometimes seems that we, the government, are playing chess while our opponents are playing checkers."

Yushchenko said that the government had cut Ukraine's foreign debt by $1.2 billion and paid government employees and pensioners millions of dollars in money owed them as well as almost doubling pensions.

He said the government's economic record was not the real issue but the desire of some of the businessmen to continue lining their pockets and to secure their positions in parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.

"The reasons for this [dismissal] are the economic considerations and interests of groups of different [criminal] big shots in Ukrainian politics. Those interests have become particularly aggressive recently because of approaching parliamentary elections."

Independent political commentator Mykola Tomenko, from the Institute for Politics, also said that the attempt to oust Yushchenko had been engineered with next year's elections in mind. He said the oligarchs wanted to keep their places in parliament because it was advantageous to their businesses.

Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma made a statement in support of Yushchenko yesterday while on a tour of Lithuania, but Tomenko says he believes Kuchma would be pleased by Yuschenko's ouster.

Tomenko said Kuchma viewed Yushchenko as too close to the anti-Kuchma opposition which has accused the president of involvement in widespread corruption and the disappearance of an opposition journalist.

Before he left for Greece, Yushchenko said that solidifying democracy in Ukraine must be any successor's priority.

"My work in government has convinced me that unless there is a deep-rooted commitment to the rule of law and process of democracy, we will deprive ourselves of chances for a (good) future. I'm convinced that for Ukraine's future it's extraordinarily important to have transparent government under the control of civil and open society, a society where the force of law dominates -- not the law of force."

Although many observers do not give Yushchenko much chance of winning the support of the majority in parliament on Thursday, Ukrainian politics are unpredictable. Yushchenko may still get a chance to continue the task of entrenching the democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine himself.