Ukrainian Lawmakers Accept Resignations Of 2 Cabinet Ministers Allied To President

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian lawmakers on Wednesday accepted the resignations of two Cabinet ministers allied to President Viktor Yushchenko amid a growing rift between the president and the premier.

Ukraine Cabinet of Ministers

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych immediately proposed replacements for the justice minister and the culture minister. However, he asked that two other Yushchenko-allied ministers — in charge of health and youth and sports — remain in their jobs.

All four ministers had submitted their resignations last month after talks broke down over the president's Our Ukraine bloc joining Yanukovych's governing coalition. Their resignations had to be approved by parliament.

"It was convenient for me to work with these ministers," said Yanukovych, who visited parliament for the vote. "I sympathize for them ... they have to leave only for political reasons."

The resignations are another sign of Yushchenko's weakening influence over this nation of 47 million. Yanukovych, who lost the bitter 2004 presidential race to Yushchenko, rebounded earlier this year, making his party the top vote-getter in the parliamentary elections.

After Yushchenko's former Orange Revolution allies failed to reunite and form a majority, Yanukovych put together a coalition with his Party of Regions, the Communists and the Socialists.

Yushchenko had tried to maintain influence by having some of his allies in the government, and Yanukovych had agreed. But ties have been frayed amid complaints that Yanukovych was backtracking on a unity memorandum that was supposed to ensure Yushchenko's agenda remained at the forefront.

Yushchenko also appears to have lost influence with his party. Last month, he sharply criticized its decision to move into opposition and order the ministers' resignation.

A Yanukovych ally, lawmaker Hanna Herman, proposed keeping the two Our Ukraine ministers in their jobs as a way to leave the door open for creating a broader governing coalition.

But Our Ukraine's leader, Roman Bezsmertny, immediately rejected that idea. "The ministers of Our Ukraine are leaving the government and nobody plans to recall their resignations," he said. "We don't plan on returning to negotiations."

Yushchenko's allies still head the foreign and defense ministries — two jobs that the constitution stipulates the president must fill.

Another Yushchenko ally, Interior Ministry Yuriy Lutsenko, remains in his post, although a parliamentary committee recommended Wednesday that Yanukovych consider sacking him.

Such a move, however, was unlikely because it would be seen as a direct challenge to Yushchenko, and would worsen already tense relations between the president and premier.

Source: AP