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Ukrainian Opposition Seeks To Remove Government Over Gas

Viktor Yanukovych
KYIV (Reuters) -- Ukraine's opposition parties have repeated calls for the government's resignation and a start to impeachment proceedings against the president over a row with Russia that has left the country 13 days without gas supplies.

Russia turned off the gas taps to Ukraine on January 1 and later stopped all supplies to Europe via Ukraine, accusing Kyiv of stealing the fuel. The row hit Ukraine just as authorities grapple with an economic recession and a weakened currency.

Ukrainians have started to grumble as some local authorities reduced heating and water supplies, but many have been apathetic or distrustful of all politicians for years.

"We demand...the creation of a special commission to investigate the authorities' abuse of power in gas supply issues, the quick resignation of the current cabinet, and the start of procedures for the impeachment of the president," Regions Party leader, Viktor Yanukovych, told parliament.

Yanukovych's party does not have enough in parliament to initiate the impeachment or vote of no confidence, and would need to win support from some pro-government lawmakers.

His calls have been backed by the small Communist faction, which has long demanded the impeachment of President Viktor Yushchenko, but votes held by the two groups together fall short of a majority.

Impeachment Process Complex

Yanukovych proposed a debate on holding a vote of no confidence in the government for January 15 but no motion has been put on the agenda yet.

The government of Yulia Tymoshenko has already survived such a vote when it was taken in July.

The procedure for impeaching the president is complex as the constitution had been tweaked several times. Some analysts believe it may be impossible for now in legal terms.

Moscow-leaning Yanukovych lost to President Viktor Yushchenko in a rerun of a fraudulent election in 2004 which sparked the Orange Revolution. His party gets its key support from the Russian-speaking east and south of the country.

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were former allies in the 2004 revolution but have since turned into bitter rivals. A coalition of their parties in parliament fell apart in September and regrouped only at the end of last year.

Tymoshenko called for Yushchenko's resignation in December.

Although the government has said it has enough gas reserves to ride out the row for several months, Ukrainians have felt the impact of the cut after some local authorities reduced heating or hot water supplies.

"I hope that this will be the last 'Orange winter,' but we still have to survive it," Yanukovych said. "The misfortunes and problems of Ukraine deepen each day the unprofessional, argumentative, and irresponsible authorities remain."