Ukraine Lawmakers Pass Election Bills

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian lawmakers on Friday finished passing a series of bills needed to hold early parliamentary elections, a significant step toward resolving the country's political crisis that some had feared would spill over into violence.

President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko (R), meets with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich (L), and Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council Ivan Plyushch (C), in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, June 1, 2007.

"We unblocked the way for elections," said Ksenia Lyapina, a lawmaker allied with President Viktor Yushchenko.

Under an agreement between Yushchenko and his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the elections are to be held in the former Soviet republic Sept. 30.

Ukraine's political tensions amid a persistent power struggle soared after Yushchenko's April 2 order to dissolve parliament, which he said was necessary because Yanukovych's majority coalition was allegedly trying to usurp power.

Yanukovych and his supporters refused to recognize the order, calling it unconstitutional.

The argument escalated sharply a week ago when the president fired prosecutor-general Svyatoslav Piskun, a member of Yanukovych's party, and the Interior Ministry, led by another Yanukovych ally, sent police to Piskun's office to prevent his eviction.

Yushchenko in turn claimed command of the Interior Ministry's troops and ordered some squads sent to the capital, raising concern that an armed confrontation between the factions would break out.

Tensions cooled when the president and premier on Sunday reached agreement on calling early elections, but that was followed by days of wrangling in parliament over the enabling legislation.

Although the legislation was finally adopted about an hour before the deadline set by Yushchenko, uncertainty remained about how long the current parliament would exist.

A Yanukovych ally, Oleksandr Peklushenko, said the legislature would continue to work.

But the parliament would be dissolved if 151 of its 450 members resign, and Yushchenko backers say 168 deputies are ready to do that.

The dispute has been closely watched in both the West and Russia.

The country of 47 million had long been within Moscow's sphere of influence, but Yushchenko aims to move it West and gain eventual membership in NATO and the European Union.

Yanukovych is seen as more oriented toward Russia.

Yushchenko and Yanukovych were bitter rivals in Ukraine's 2004 presidential election. Yanukovych was declared the winner of a fraud-riddled vote that sparked mass protests known as the Orange Revolution.

Yushchenko won a court-ordered repeat of the balloting, but Yanukovych returned to prominence last year when his party won the largest share of seats in parliament and he formed a majority coalition.

Source: Associated Press (AP)