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Ukraine's president dismisses politicians

Six months before critical elections, the prime minister and Cabinet are fired over infighting and allegations of corruption.

By Associated Press
Published September 9, 2005

KIEV, Ukraine - President Viktor Yushchenko fired his 7-month-old government Thursday, dismissing his dynamic prime minister - the hero of the Orange Revolution that swept him to power - and accepting the resignation of one of the movement's top financial backers.

The government breakup, amid allegations of corruption, deepened a crisis that has diminished the popularity of the man whose dioxin poisoning and defiant stand against election fraud seized the world's attention last year.

He accused Cabinet members of focusing more on infighting than running the country of 48-million.

"I could not pretend that nothing was happening. Not for this did I survive a poisoning.... I had to take radical steps," said Yushchenko, who rose to power on promises to end the corruption that blackened the reign of his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma.

But the dissolution of the government led by charismatic Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and acceptance of tycoon Petro Poroshenko's resignation from the powerful Security and Defense Council came at a dangerous time. Parliamentary elections are six months away, and Yushchenko must win to cement his political gains.

Instead, he could face a strong challenge from Tymoshenko. She has chafed at having to stifle her more radical impulses in the interests of keeping Yushchenko's team together, and her popularity - reflected by the chants of "Yulia!" that often drowned out Yushchenko's speeches - has not diminished.

Yushchenko's popularity already was waning. Opinion polls showed Ukrainians increasingly believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, citing rising prices and lack of progress by the new government.

Thursday's dismissals came after Poroshenko and other top presidential aides were accused of corruption by some of their former Orange Revolution allies. Yushchenko called the allegations "groundless but very strong," saying they demanded a response.

The Security Service has ordered a probe into those allegations, and Poroshenko said he was resigning to avoid the appearance of putting pressure on the investigation.

Yushchenko appointed Yuriy Yekhanurov, a former economics minister and current regional governor, as acting prime minister. He asked other ministers to stay on until a new Cabinet is named.

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