Ukraine Parliament Deals Blow To Leader

KIEV, Ukraine - Parliament on Thursday rejected President Viktor Yushchenko's choice to be foreign minister, dealing another major blow to his efforts to maintain control over this ex-Soviet republic's foreign policy.

Ukraine's acting Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko answers deputies' questions before the vote in Ukraine's parliament in Kiev February 22, 2007. Parliament rejected Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's proposed candidate as foreign minister on Thursday, casting new doubt on the increasingly isolated leader's pledges to seek entry to the European Union and NATO.

Career diplomat Volodymyr Ohryzko, nominated by Yushchenko to replace the ousted Borys Tarasyuk, won only 196 votes, far short of the 226 needed for approval.

Lawmakers also rejected Yushchenko's choice of Viktor Korol as Security Service chief, in a 190-4 vote.

Yushchenko said he was surprised that parliament didn't approve Ohryzko, who had served as Tarasyuk's deputy.

"I want to hear from parliament why they are not satisfied with the candidacy of Ohryzko - a person who during the last 10 to 15 years held a significant place in Ukrainian diplomacy, who worked in important diplomatic spheres, who has experience that not a lot of people in Ukraine have," said Yushchenko, according to the Unian news agency.

He said he would nominate both Korol and Ohryzko again.

Yushchenko, who won the presidency after the 2004 Orange Revolution, has sought to pull Ukraine out of Russia's shadow and win membership for this nation of 47 million in the European Union and NATO.

But he has fallen far short of his ambitions, and last year, his party was humbled by the Russian-leaning party of his political rival, Viktor Yanukovych, in parliamentary elections.

When Yanukovych put together a majority coalition, Yushchenko agreed to nominate his one-time foe as prime minister, and the two govern jointly in what has become a bruising battle for power with the president on the losing end.

Yanukovych forced out Tarasyuk last month after a dispute that resulted in the government temporarily cutting off funding to the Foreign Ministry.

Under the constitution, the president gets to nominate the foreign minister, but his choice requires parliamentary approval.

Yushchenko tapped Ohryzko to replace him, but the parliamentary majority immediately expressed its disappointment with the choice.

Ohryzko came under special criticism for his decision to speak Ukrainian - and have it translated into Russian - during a conference that included Russian and Ukrainian politicians and experts.

Some attendees complained that it slowed down the talks and Ohryzko, who is fluent in Russian, should have spoken Russian.

"He showed a total absence of professionalism. He showed that he is not a diplomat, but a person with an inferiority complex," said Yanukovych ally Yuriy Bondarev.

Yushchenko's party and the bloc of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko supported Ohryzko, arguing that he was a career diplomat who had risen through the ranks of the Foreign Ministry.

Former Foreign Minister Hennadiy Udovenko, a member of Yushchenko's party, said that Ohryzko could be counted on to stick up for Ukraine.

"Today he thinks about the national interests of Kiev, of Ukraine but not about the national interests of Moscow. He doesn't grovel at the feet of our big neighbor," Udovenko said, referring to Russia.

Later, in a sign of protest over parliament's actions, opposition lawmakers from Tymoshenko's bloc cut off lights in the parliamentary hall, forcing the evening session to be conducted in the dark.

Lawmakers used flashlights and lights from mobile phones to continue working.

Source: AP