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Ukraine's Opposition Disrupts Debate On IMF Reform

Lawmakers of the Regions Party block the rostrum and presidium of the parliament in Kyiv.
KYIV (Reuters) -- Ukraine's opposition disrupted debate in parliament on measures to restore IMF credits, a day ahead of street protests against economic hardship.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, pressing for approval of the bills, accused the opposition Regions Party of torpedoing efforts to limit the effects of the global financial crisis.

The action underscored the ex-Soviet state's political and economic difficulties as the crisis reduces markets for exports and cuts jobs and living standards more than four years after the Orange Revolution brought pro-Western politicians to power.

It took place a day after the assembly, in a rare moment of near-consensus against President Viktor Yushchenko, called an October 25 presidential election, earlier than anticipated.

The Regions Party, led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, stormed the rostrum as the session opened and hung posters in the chamber reading, "Leaders resign, end the crisis!"

"The blocking of parliament today is halting legislative action against the crisis and is hurting every citizen of Ukraine," Tymoshenko told a cabinet meeting. "I would not like to see the Regions Party act in the same way as Somali pirates. They may want to boost their poll ratings, but let them not destroy the country in doing so."

Tymoshenko said she believed the International Monetary Fund would announce later in the day when it intended to send a mission back to Kyiv to discuss a resumption of credits.

Ukrainian politics since Yushchenko's election in 2004 has been dominated by constant sniping between the president and Tymoshenko, twice appointed prime minister.

Demands Resignations

Yanukovych, who served as prime minister for a year between Tymoshenko's two terms, demands the resignation of all Ukrainian leaders, including the president and prime minister, and the staging of early parliamentary and presidential elections.

His party refuses to back legislation sought by the IMF to restore the credits, saying the government has failed to produce a credible program to tackle the crisis.

It has called street protests for April 3 against government policy, but rallies last week attracted smaller than anticipated crowds, even in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, its heartland.

The IMF released the first tranche of a $16.4-billion loan last year, but subsequent instalments have been suspended in a disagreement over a reform program.

The fund's mission left Kyiv in February without taking a decision on the second tranche or setting a date for its return.

Parliament this week passed two bills, part of a package needed to restore the flow of credits, on raising excise taxes.

But the chamber declined even to place on the agenda other pieces of legislation intended to balance the finances of Ukraine's pension fund and state energy company Naftogaz.