Yushchenko Puts Ukrainian Troops Under His Control (Update1)

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko took the country's interior ministry troops under presidential control, a day after the interior minister accused him of fomenting a coup, as a months-long political crisis deepened.

Viktor Yushchenko is taking charge

``The order was signed to prevent possible threats to the nation's interests and ensure that the interior troops, which had been until recently a part of the Interior Ministry, are not used to benefit political forces,'' read a statement posted on Yushchenko's Web site today.

Ukraine's political standoff worsened yesterday when Yushchenko fired Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun a month after hiring him.

Piskun is a member of parliament for the Party of the Regions, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Yushchenko's bitter rival.

After the dismissal, Interior Minster Vasyl Tsushko called it ``a coup d'etat,'' Interfax reported.

Power in Ukraine has been divided for months between Yushchenko, who became president in 2004 after a peaceful ``Orange Revolution'' and favors joining the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the premier, who seeks closer ties with Russia.

Yushchenko dissolved parliament on April 2 and called early elections, saying Yanukovych was trying to oust him.

Street Protests

Armed troops loyal to both sides scuffled in several public buildings in Kiev yesterday, pictures broadcast on Russian state television channels showed, as crowds of Yushchenko and Yanukovych supporters took to the streets.

The troops which Yushchenko has now brought under his direct control must ``guard and patrol Ukraine's state institutions, particularly the Prosecutor General's office and the Constitutional Court,'' the statement said.

Yushchenko and Yanukovych, 56, are due to meet for talks today, Yushchenko's office said earlier.

``There is a quiet coup d'etat going on,'' Yushchenko told a press conference yesterday, accusing his political opponents of trying to gain power by illegal means.

``There is only one solution to this -- political agreement. People with guns won't help to solve the conflict.''

Yushchenko, 53, and Yanukovych have failed to agree when or whether the early elections should go ahead.

The Constitutional Court has been debating the issue for weeks, with no result.

Trips Canceled

Yushchenko canceled a trip to a summit in the Czech Republic because of the crisis, his press service said. Yanukovych returned to Kiev yesterday, cutting short a meeting of prime ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose grouping of 12 former Soviet republics.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, attending the CIS meeting in Yalta, expressed ``some concern'' over the mounting political crisis, Interfax reported. He urged adherence to the law and to the constitution, the agency said.

Yushchenko and Yanukovych have battled each other for control of the country's future since Yushchenko became president following the Orange Revolution in late 2004 that overturned the results of a fraud-ridden election.

Yanukovych was initially declared the winner of the presidential ballot but a court later ordered a new vote in the wake of widespread voting irregularities, a ballot that was won by Yushchenko.

Yanukovych's party finished first in parliamentary elections in 2006 and later formed a coalition government.

Source: Bloomberg