Ukrainian Parliament Asks Premier To Fire Interior Minister

KIEV, Ukraine -- Parliament on Thursday called on Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych to sack the country's interior minister, a move that will remove one of President Viktor Yushchenko's strongest allies in the government and further weaken the president's position.

Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko

Yanukovych was expected to quickly endorse the decision, which lawmakers passed 232-69 - just six over the amount needed to pass.

Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, a leading organizer of the 2004 Orange Revolution mass protests, was one of the few remaining members of the Orange Revolution team in the current government.

After Yanukovych became premier following this year's parliamentary elections, Yushchenko appealed to him to keep Lutsenko in his job. Yanukovych agreed, even though Lutsenko was deeply unpopular with Yanukovych's supporters, against whom he spearheaded numerous corruption investigations.

Thursday's vote came after a special parliamentary commission concluded that Lutsenko should be sacked. Lutsenko had been accused by the commission of failing to reform police agencies, politicizing his office and corruption. The corruption allegations involved granting officer ranks illegally and giving pistols to citizens without proper licenses.

"People, who are we appointing as ministers?" Yuriy Boldyryev of Yanukovych's Party of Regions said before the vote. "A revolutionary who called on citizens to seize the government? A terminator who has tried to destroy the police?"

Other lawmakers credited Lutsenko with gradually turning around corrupt law enforcement bodies.

"This is nothing more than a political show," said Valentyn Zubov of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc.

The Socialists broke ranks with the other members of the governing coalition and refused to endorse the dismissal of Lutsenko, a former Socialist. The coalition was able to pick up enough votes, however, by winning the support of some lawmakers in Tymoshenko's faction.

Following the vote, Lutsenko said he intended to keep working until the Cabinet formally accepts parliament's decision.

The loss further weakens Yushchenko and could add to tensions between the president and the premier. The pro-Western Yushchenko and the more Russian-leaning Yanukovych share power in an awkward arrangement that was initially billed as an effort to unite Ukraine, but instead has turned into a tug-of-war for influence, with the president largely on the losing end.

Also Thursday, Yushchenko asked parliament to dismiss the head of the state security service, Ihor Drizhchany. The request was submitted with no explanation, and the president's office refused to comment, saying further details would be made available Friday.

An order posted on Yushchenko's Web site Thursday said that Drizhchany had been awarded the rank of army general. Ukraine's Interfax news agency, citing an unidentified official, said that Drizhchany was expected to be named to the president's Security and Defense Council, which would require his resignation from the security service.

Source: AP