Ukraine PM Accuses Yushchenko Over H1N1 Swine Flu

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president and prime minister hurled angry accusations at each other on Wednesday over ways of fighting an influenza epidemic, now a major factor in campaigning for a January election in which they are rivals.

A young man wears a gas mask as he rides a bus during an H1N1 flu outbreak in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

A total of 189 people have died in the outbreak, the health ministry said, and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has cancelled political rallies and ordered schools shut to try to curb it.

The toll included 17 deaths from the H1N1 flu, First Deputy Health Minister Vasily Lazorishinets told journalists.

The health scare has caused panic across Ukraine and has become, like other hot issues such as contacts with the International Monetary Fund, a political football between President Viktor Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, both contenders in the Jan. 17 poll for president.

Weighing in against Yushchenko, Tymoshenko told ministers that the President, by failing to approve a law to release $125 million to fight the outbreak, was endangering human life.

"Without the signing of this law, the government can not fight this epidemic today," she said.

"The action of the President ... is an action today against Ukraine. The President will be responsible for every person who is ill today or dies."

Yushchenko, who in late October gave the go-ahead to rises in pensions and the minimum wage in defiance of the IMF and pleas by Tymoshenko, hit back immediately.

Signing a proposed law to release anti-flu funds would lead to new money being printed and a devaluation of the national currency, the hryvnia, he said.

"I will not be the author of such a policy. I don't need to be blackmailed. I have the right of President. I am taking a decision (to veto the bill) and it's taken," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Implying further criticism of Yushchenko, Tymoshenko said Ukraine's economy will undergo an "extremely difficult" period without $3.8 billion from the IMF, which her aides fear would rebound on Kiev's ability to pay for Russian gas.

The Fund refrained from releasing the funds -- part of a $16.4 billion programme to counter the economic crisis -- after Yushchenko signed the minimum wage law into force.

ELECTION FRONT-RUNNERS

Ex-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the biggest loser in a 2004 pro-western revolution, and Tymoshenko are front-runners in the race for president.

But the personal attack by Tymoshenko on Yushchenko confirmed that the run-up to the January election is likely to be dominated by sniping between the two erstwhile allies who once stood side by side in the "Orange Revolution".

Tymoshenko painted a dark picture of the health threat which seemed certain to add to uncertainty among the 46 million population over its true extent.

Optimism that authorities could quickly get to grips with the epidemic had proved premature, she said. "Today the epidemic is not relaxing its embrace," she said.

The outbreak of respiratory illness began in western Ukraine but is now spreading east, with cases appearing near the Russian border and in the south in Crimea.

On the streets of the capital, Kiev, many people are wearing face-masks. People are being turned away from some embassies and other public buildings if they are not wearing masks.

The World Health Organisation says it is assuming most cases of influenza in Ukraine had been caused by the H1N1 virus. WHO says the outbreak may indicate how the virus will develop in the northern hemisphere winter.

Yushchenko, who appears to have no chance of re-election according to popularity ratings, has accused Tymoshenko and Yanukovich of criminal negligence in the way they have handled the flu outbreak.

He said both leaders had been aware of the epidemic in the week they organised mass rallies for their own campaigns.

Tymoshenko on Wednesday renewed an accusation that Yushchenko could be preparing to introduce a state of emergency as a pretext for putting off the Jan. 17 election.

Source: The Star

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