Yushchenko Takes Steps To Restore Authority

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s political crisis ratcheted up several notches on Thursday as President Viktor Yushchenko challenged parliament to withdraw its vote of no confidence, and put an end to his four-month truce with the opposition.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko speaks at a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006. Yushchenko demanded Thursday that parliament rescind its call to dismiss the government, calling it an attempt to destabilize the country.

At a cabinet meeting Mr Yushchenko accused the parliament of seeking to destabilise the country and insisted his government would continue in office.

He told the meeting: “Today I signed an appeal to parliament with a demand to cancel the unconstitutional decision to sack the government. This government will form and implement executive policy ... until a new cabinet is appointed after the parliamentary election in March.”

The justice minister Serhiy Holovaty issued a statement on Thursday saying that Tuesday’s vote was invalid because it fell short of the two-thirds majority required – only some 56 per cent of deputies voted in favour.

Mr Yushchenko also tore up the memorandum of cooperation that he signed with the main parliamentary opposition in September. The move raises the possibility that Mr Yushchenko may once again seek to pursue political opponents in the courts for their part in the electoral fraud that sparked the “Orange Revolution” in November 2004.

“Today I withdraw my signature from the memorandum of cooperation between the government and the opposition, which we signed in September, because the other side has broken the fundamental principle of this agreement: cooperation in developing joint efforts to stabilise the internal political situation in Ukraine,” Mr Yushchenko said.

In a further sign of the president’s intention to regain the political initiative, the administration hinted at a national referendum on the constitution, which would seek to restore to Mr Yushchenko powers that he relinquished to parliament on January 1 under a key settlement during the Orange Revolution which cleared the ground for a political resolution to the crisis.

In an interview reported on Bloomberg News, Oleg Rybachuk, the head of Mr Yushchenko’s secretariat, said the National Security and Defence Council would meet to discuss a referendum “in the very near future”.

Mr Yushchenko also vowed to challenge the vote in the Constitutional Court, but in a further twist to the crisis parliament on Thursday refused to ratify nominees for judges, effectively paralysing the court.

In response to Mr Yushchenko’s decision to renege on the memorandum of understanding, opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych raised the spectre of separatism which threatened to split the country between its pro-western north-west and pro-Russian south-east during the Orange Revolution.

Mr Yanukovych said that Mr Yushchenko had demonstrated that he was president of “only one half of the country”.

“When we signed the memorandum we put the interests of the people, of unity, above party interests. It’s a pity the president has ended this process, but it is he who did so, not us,” he said, according to his press office.

Mr Yanukovych’s opinion poll rating has improved markedly since the gas dispute with Russia broke out.

Mr Yushchenko emphasised his intention to observe the terms of the agreement with Russia on gas imports to Ukraine, signed last week.

In a thinly-veiled attack on his former prime minister, the populist Yulia Tymoshenko, who is alleged to have made a fortune from trading gas in the 1990s, Mr Yushchenko said: “I know how those people who now want to become advisers on avoiding a gas crisis used to steal billions [of dollars worth] of gas.”

Source: Financial Times