Yushchenko Offers Upbeat Assessment of First Six Months in Power

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko gave an upbeat assessment July 25 of his first six months in office but also sounded a warning to his often-feuding government not to abandon the unity that brought them to power.

"We must demonstrate that we have stayed the same as we were seven months ago on Independence Square," Yushchenko said after a marathon eight-hour, closed door session with his top ministers.

Viktor Yushchenko with Family at January Inauguration

Yushchenko came to power in January after last year's mass protests known as the Orange Revolution in which a divergent group of opposition leaders called their supports onto the streets to challenge a fraud-marred presidential vote.

The vote was re-held and Yushchenko convincingly won, going on to form a coalition government that brought together wealthy oligarchs, pro-business politicians and Socialists.

The team won popular support for their pledges to improve living standards and fight the corruption and cronyism that had marred the decade-long rule of former President Leonid Kuchma.

"All the immediate tasks that we put before us for the first half of the year, we solved them," Yushchenko said.

He claimed 489,500 new jobs had been created - halfway to the goal he set himself of one million new jobs every year. Yushchenko also praised the 4 percent growth in Ukraine's economy even though it represents a slowdown from last year, and the government's success at holding inflation at 6.4 percent.

"Today I can look in the eyes of those people who before this hadn't received pensions of a minimum living standard, of handicapped children and mothers who give birth to a kid," Yushchenko said, referring to new social benefits and the increase in pensions paid by his government.

Yushchenko called on the government and parliament to improve relations, asking them to "work as one team." This month, lawmakers refused to pass all the parts of the government's much-sought after package of legislation that is needed before Ukraine can join the World Trade Organization.

"You should be able to forgive and focus on the state," Yushchenko said, flanked by Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yushchenko and his allies face parliamentary polls next spring, a major test at a time when political reforms will have transferred much of the presidency's powers to the prime minister, who will be chosen by the political forces that triumph in the legislative vote.

Yushchenko didn't address some of the thorniest issues to face the new government, such as the fuel crisis earlier this fall and rising food prices.

Notoriously late, Yushchenko kept journalists waiting on July 26 for almost three hours. At one point, he noted that he doesn't own a watch.

Source: AP