US's Rice Urges Ukraine To Deliver On Democracy

KIEV, Ukraine -- US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will today urge the pro-West leaders of Ukraine who swept to power in an ''Orange Revolution'' last year to show disillusioned voters the benefits of democracy.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Rice, a Soviet expert, arrived on her first trip to the former Soviet republic as the top U.S. diplomat with American officials expressing concern the euphoria witnessed at the start of the year by her predecessor, Colin Powell had evaporated.

Since winning election on a wave of protests against poll fraud, President Viktor Yushchenko has kept his focus on integrating with Western institutions like the EU and NATO. But his first year has been turbulent with few economic successes.

Yushchenko sacked another hero of the revolution, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, in September after clashes over privatisation and state regulation of the economy. Ukraine's World Trade Organization membership bid fell short after parliament failed to pass key bills and negotiations on a trade deal with Washington and other countries remain incomplete.

''The people who launched the Orange Revolution now need to deliver on that revolution,'' Rice said in Berlin hours before her arrival in Ukraine during a five-day tour of Europe.

She pledged more US involvement with Ukraine and sought to enlist European allies to support a country that Russia saw as part of its sphere of influence until a people power revolt where protesters wore orange last year.

Yushchenko has been unable to meet the high expectations of voters who seemed to believe the revolution, openly backed by the United States, was a panacea for their economic problems.

Voters have also been put off by his bickering with Tymoshenko. Opinion polls show the party of the man the two of them faced down last year, Viktor Yanukovich, leading before a March parliamentary vote.

Ukraine had been a positive symbol of America's support for the spread of freedoms around the world and part of Rice's message is to warn against any backsliding on democracy in the run up to a vote that threatens to reopen rifts in the country.

Stakes in March's parliamentary election have been raised by constitutional changes handing many of the president's powers to the prime minister and parliament.

Yesterday, Yushchenko said he would stay out of the election to prevent a split in the vote.

The visit's focus on democracy may be a welcome relief for Rice, who has been dogged on previous stops on her four-nation European tour by questions over alleged illegal practices against detainees in the U.S. war on terrorism.

It also offers Yushchenko an opportunity to display his foreign policy credentials at a time when an emergency over birdflu has added to his domestic woes.

Source: Reuters