Ukraine Leader Dismisses Notion PM Should Quit

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Saturday dismissed a report that he had suggested his prime minister, criticized over her handling of a fuel crisis, resign or join an opposition party.

The weekly Zerkalo Nedeli said the president had made the suggestion to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at a meeting this week with Russian and Ukrainian oil executives.

Yushchenko, propelled to power last December after mass "Orange Revolution" protests, has been increasingly at odds with Tymoshenko over how to rejuvenate the economy as part a broad policy of moving out of Russia's shadow and closer to Europe.

Tymoshenko has accused Russian companies of a "plot" in raising prices of products sent to Ukraine and favored imposing limits on petrol prices.

But Russian firms, which own four of six refineries in Ukraine and dominate the retail market, cut supplies. That caused shortages, with motorists queuing for hours at pumps.

Yushchenko launched a broadside against her this week, saying the moves had violated market principles. The economy minister was given a week to rescind moves to cap petrol prices.

But a statement on his Web site dismissed any notion that he had asked the premier to quit.

"I trust the prime minister. My approval of the government's work remains unchanged," Yushchenko said.

"Only those who take no action make no mistakes. The ideals of Independence Square -- honesty, transparency and open government -- remain with us," he added, referring to last year's huge rallies in Kiev's main square.

Shortages have since eased. Fuel prices have risen and Russian companies have pledged to increase supplies to Ukraine.

Speaking at the opening of Thursday's talks with oil executives, Yushchenko said events on the market had been "a clear example of how not to manage affairs."

Zerkalo Nedeli's account, quoting meeting participants, said the president described his government as "the worst in Europe" and said he regretted appointing Tymoshenko.

It said the premier repeatedly rejected his criticism. Yushchenko then proposed she "tender her resignation and go off to play the pipes and beat the drum" with the opposition.

Yushchenko's spokeswoman, Iryna Gerashchenko, appeared to suggest the matter was now closed.

"Naturally, he wants the prime minister to remain," she said by telephone. "The president is firm in saying that discussion of policy must not take place in public. But there is no point in looking back. That is a path to nowhere."

Source: Reuters