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Ukraine: Yushchenko Fails Confidence Vote

The Ukrainian parliament today voted a motion of "no confidence" in reformist Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko and he stepped down from his post.

Kyiv, 26 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- An alliance of communists and political parties loyal to business tycoons called oligarchs today carried the majority in the Ukrainian parliament in a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko.

In two votes, 263 deputies out of the 450-strong parliament determined they did not have confidence in Yushchenko. The prime minister then quit his post.

The anti-Yushchenko alliance had accused the government of failing to improve the economy and leading the country to ruin.

Yushchenko promised his supporters he would fight on for the issues he believed were important to ensure democracy and economic prosperity.

He thanked his supporters in parliament and around 15,000 supporters outside parliament -- the largest demonstration Ukraine has seen since pro-independence rallies held in the late 1980s.

Yushchenko told them he would not abandon politics:

"I am not going away from politics. I am going to return. I thank you again for your attention and support." He said the government had been captured by "a group which stands against the national interests" and said he would stand with the people in combating the forces which had thrown him out of office.

The communists had been unhappy throughout Yushchenko's 16-month tenure in office with his market reform and privatization policies and his pro-Western stance.

The "oligarch" parties turned against Yushchenko for taking action against corruption and reducing money-making opportunities for many of them.

The vote against Yushchenko came despite an upturn in Ukraine's economy and popular moves by his government, such as paying millions of dollars in back pay and pensions owed to those depending on state funds.

Earlier this week, Yushchenko said the desire of some oligarchs to continue lining their pockets and to secure their positions in parliamentary elections scheduled for next year was the real issue rather than the government's economic record:

"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."

The director of independent Ukrainian think-tank, the Institute for Statehood and Democracy, Ivan Lozowy, said Yushchenko's removal may be the beginning of more turmoil in Ukraine. He said people realize the popular will was being ignored by parliament and that could lead to a feeling that direct action at street level was the only way to press for changes.

He said: "We will understand the significance of this event in a little while. The removal of Yushchenko, as it happened, opens the doors to a renewed political revolution."

Many observers believe Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was instrumental in Yushchenko's removal. Kuchma has allies among the oligarch parties and it is believed he could have tipped the balance in Yushchenko's favor if he really wanted to do so.

Earlier in the week, Kuchma expressed support for Yushchenko and last night he held a meeting with him and political party leaders ostensibly to broker a compromise.

However, according to sources close to Yushchenko (who were unwilling to be named), Yushchenko refused to make compromises with his opponents and to give them a share in government by offering them portfolios in his administration.

Kuchma is himself the target of mass demonstrations because of accusations that he was involved in the disappearance of an opposition journalist and is blamed for the widespread corruption gripping Ukraine. He is known to be unhappy about Yushchenko's popularity in opinion polls and his enthusiasm for market reform and Western leanings.