Ukrainian Lawmakers Propose Suspending Interior Minister For 2 Months During Corruption Probe

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's parliament on Thursday proposed suspending the interior minister — a politician closely allied with President Viktor Yushchenko — for two months as part of a corruption probe.

Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko

The 450-seat parliament voted 235-5 to create a temporary parliamentary committee to investigate newspaper allegations of corruption and abuse of power on the part of Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko and other high-ranking ministry officials. Lawmakers proposed that Lutsenko be suspended during the two-month investigation.

Parliament's recommendation to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych to suspend Lutsenko is nonbinding, and it was not immediately clear what Yanukovych would do.

The parliamentary move is risky. In addition to angering Yushchenko, it also could trigger conflict within Yanukovych's governing coalition. The vote divided the coalition, with Yanukovych's Party of Regions and the Communists supporting it and the Socialists opposing the measure by refusing to cast ballots. Some 195 lawmakers registered in the hall didn't cast ballots as a sign of opposition.

Lutsenko, a former Socialist, was named to Yanukovych's Cabinet at Yushchenko's personal request, keeping the job he had held since Yushchenko became president after defeating Yanukovych in 2004's bitter presidential race.

Lutsenko was one of the organizers of the massive election fraud protests in 2004 that became known as the Orange Revolution and helped Yushchenko win the presidency.

After Yushchenko came to power, Lutsenko spearheaded corruption investigations into some of Yanukovych's closest allies. Yanukovych's decision to keep him on after he became premier in August was seen as a major compromise to Yushchenko, and was met with strong opposition within Yanukovych's own Party of Regions.

Party of Regions lawmaker Evhen Kushnaryov said the parliamentary committee was created to investigate allegations that appeared in a September newspaper article alleging "systematic, widespread abuse of position and corruption activity by Interior Ministry officials," according to Ukraine's Interfax news agency.

"It's the beginning of political reprisals against one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution," said Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, a member of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine.

The move came a day after parliament accepted the resignations of two Cabinet ministers allied to Yushchenko who had asked to step down after the president's party declared it was moving into the opposition. Two other Our Ukraine ministers — in charge of health and youth and sports — also submitted resignations, but they were asked by Yanukovych to temporarily stay in their jobs.

Source: AP

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