Ukraine Government Deadlock Sidelined By Necklace Spat

KIEV, Ukraine -- Stylish Ukrainian politician Julia Timoshenko took off her necklace in the former Soviet republic's parliament on Friday, to prove a point during debate on whether or not to reduce MP benefits.

Julia Timoshenko near parliament

The gesture put the house, a regular scene of fisticuffs between MPs, into an uproar - but things settled down quickly. A government more concerned with political grandstanding, rather than reaching a working compromise, has been the norm in Ukraine for years.

Timoshenko, leader of the country's largest opposition party and renowned for appearing in public dressed only in the latest French fashions, had been responding to an accusation of hypocrisy by a pro-government speaker.

'Dear Julia Vladimorovna (Timoshenko), one pearl around your neck would be able to feed an average Ukrainian family for a year,' said Evhen Kushnarev, leader of the country's pro-oligarch Regions Ukraine party.

'So don't come to us with farcical claims you are trying to benefit the Ukrainian people,' he said, arguing that a bill introduced by Timoshenko's opposition party to reduce MP benefits merited no support.

Ukrainian MPs are among the least trusted members of Ukrainian society, thought to be less corrupt only than public health workers, customs agents, and traffic police in years of public opinion surveys. The cost of a premium place on a party's election list and a possible seat in parliament is reportedly in excess of five million dollars.

Kushnarev and Timoshenko are among the most notorious of Ukraine's MPs; he for having led a failed secession movement during the country's 2004 Orange Revolution, and she for amassing a fortune in government natural gas exports during the 1990s.

Timoshenko retaliated to Kushnarev's remarks by marching in clicking high heels up to the speaker's lectern, and handing Kushnarev her sparkling gold-and-pearl accessory.

The move violated parliamentary procedure rules, but followed a long-established precedent in the Ukrainian legislature that allows physical interruption of an opponent's speech, provided the interruption is imaginative enough.

Taken aback at the bauble, Kushnarev required several seconds to recover his wits before snapping that Timoshenko should 'donate the jewelry to the poor of the nation.'

Timoshenko riposted by protesting her finances were limited, her necklace made of plaster, and promised she would hand the offending item 'over to journalists so it can be fairly appraised.'

The bill narrowly failed, gathering only 215 of 226 votes needed to pass the 450-seat house.

The testy exchange came at the end of a week during which the country's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich declared that his pro- Russia cabinet would make policy while the President of the country, reformer Viktor Yushchenko, should do little but watch.

'The president must learn where the real power in this country lies,' Yanukovich told the Interfax news agency.

Yanukovich is closely allied with the country's eastern industrial barons, supports closer Ukrainian relations with Russia, and opposes Ukrainian membership in NATO. Fighting corruption is not a priority.

Yushchenko supports economic and administrative reforms, early Ukrainian membership in the European Union and NATO, and a government campaign to fight corruption - especially the tight links between the industrial tycoons and government officials on the take.

Yushchenko in Thursday remarks to reporters made clear he not only had no intention of pulling pro-reform ministers out of Yanukovich's cabinet, but repeated threats to veto any legislation not aimed at economic reforms that was produced by the Yanukovich-controlled parliament.

Talks begun in June between Yushchenko's and Yanukovich's political parties on a possible grand coalition collapsed on Wednesday.

The failure not only left the country's parliament badly split, but the government as well, with roughly one-third of Yanukovich's ministers loyal to Yushchenko.

Millions of Ukrainians demonstrated in the streets two years ago to put Yushchenko into power after a fixed presidential election won by Yanukovich. Since then the country has failed to form a working government.

Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur