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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

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Constitutional Court to rule and possible new PM

Yanukovych Asks Constitutional Court to Rule on Coalition Law
By Daryna Krasnolutska

March 10 (Bloomberg) -- Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych will ask the Constitutional Court to rule on a law allowing parliamentary coalitions to be formed based on individual lawmaker affiliations instead of party groups.

The law, initiated by Yanukovych’s party, was adopted yesterday by the Kiev-based legislature and needs the president’s signature to take effect. Opposition parties called the move “unconstitutional.”

Yanukovych told European Union and G-8 ambassadors that he “decided to ask the Constitutional Court to rule on whether a coalition and a government formed under the new law would be legitimate,” according to a statement posted on his Web site today.

Parliament voted last week to topple former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who lost the Feb. 7 presidential run-off to Yanukovych. Yanukovych has until April 3 to form a new coalition, failing which he must call early parliamentary elections.

Last Updated: March 10, 2010 08:14 EST

Yanukovych Offers Key Post to Tigipko
10 March 2010

Serhiy Tihipko is a former central bank governor.

KIEV — Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has offered the post of deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs to reformist former central bank chief Sergei Tigipko, Yanukovych's office said Wednesday.

It said in a statement that Tigipko, 50, had "agreed to work in the new government" but did not make clear whether he had accepted the post of deputy prime minister.

A spokeswoman for Tigipko could not confirm whether he had agreed to take the post.

Yanukovych's offer will fuel speculation that the job of prime minister will go to the president's Russian-born close ally, former Finance Minister Mykola Azarov, 62.

The nomination of a new prime minister is likely soon after the formation of a new ruling coalition in parliament, expected in the next two days.

Yanukovych's Party of the Regions is trying to stitch together a new alliance and a government to replace that of ousted Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who lost a presidential runoff election in February to Yanukovych.

On Tuesday, the Party of the Regions and its allies pushed through the parliament a rule change easing the creation of a ruling coalition by giving deputies the right to join as individuals, not necessarily as part of a parliamentary faction.

Yanukovych's lawmakers say they could announce a coalition on Thursday or Friday after the rule change is signed by the president and published in the official newspaper.

Lawmakers said Azarov was meeting leaders of the Our Ukraine faction of former President Viktor Yushchenko on Wednesday, a crucial bloc if the Party of the Regions is to clinch a majority in the parliament.

Tigipko, who came in at a strong third in the first round of the presidential election in January, previously ruled out accepting any job other than that of prime minister and demanded "unpopular" reforms to tackle a serious economic crisis.

Political analysts have questioned whether he could push such reforms through a government beholden in large part to Yanukovych's wealthy industrial backers.

Ukraine Stocks Rally for 7th Day to Highest Since June 2008

March 10, 2010, 6:41 AM EST

By Daryna Krasnolutska

March 10 (Bloomberg) -- Ukrainian shares rallied for a seventh day, pushing the benchmark PFTS Index to its highest level since June 2008, as Viktor Yanukovych moves toward forming a government after winning last month’s election.

The PFTS index added 3.1 percent, extending its longest winning streak since November.

Shares are rising as Yanukovych builds a parliamentary coalition after his party ousted Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko last week. Yanukovych offered Serhiy Tigipko, who came third in the January presidential election, the post of deputy prime minister, according to a statement today on the president’s Web site. The International Monetary Fund has frozen its $16.4 billion loan program since November, waiting on the government to pass a budget for 2010 and reduce spending.

“Now there’s a chance for the country to have a president, prime minister and parliament that speak a common language,” said Dmytro Tarabakin, managing director of Dragon Capital, the largest investment bank in Kiev. “The government will be able to function, which is what Ukraine has been lacking for a long time.”

--Editor: Gavin Serkin

Campaign to bring home journalist's diarie

Regional press news - this story published 10 March 2010

by holdthefrontpage staff

A campaign has been launched to put the diaries of a revered Welsh journalist on display in his home town.

Gareth Jones, of the Western Mail, came to prominence in the early 1930s when he told the world of the famine Stalin inflicted upon the people of the Ukraine in which an estimated 10m people died.

His reports on the 'Holomodor', filed after walking for miles through the Ukrainian countryside, were widely discredited at the time by both Stalin's government and other western journalists.

Now Vale-based Welsh Assembly member Chris Franks is hoping to bring Mr Jones' diaries back to Barry to be put on display at a local library, following an exhibition before Christmas at the University of Cambridge where the reporter was a student.

Chris said: "Gareth Jones was a true campaigning journalist who was not afraid to report how peasants in Ukraine were starving while the Soviet regime exported grain to the west despite the terrible impact on his own life.

"The horror of Stalin's action is one of the forgotten tragedies of the 20th century and it would be great if people in his home town and across Wales could take a look at the historic diaries he compiled."

Welsh Assembly Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones said that any loan of the diaries would be dependent on Barry Library being able to provide display conditions which met required standards.

An alternative venue in Cardiff might be a possibility for hosting the exhibition, he added.

In 2008, Mr Jones and Manchester Guardian correspondent Malcolm Muggeridge were given the posthumous Ukrainian Order of Freedom for their reporting.

Gareth was born in Barry in 1905 but his life was cut short aged just 29 when he was murdered in 1935 in Inner Mongolia.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

EU: Ukraine needs reforms for closer ties

Thu Mar 4, 2010 12:00pm GMT

* EU expects stability, energy system reform in Ukraine

* EU says Ukraine should resume talks with IMF, pass budget

By Marcin Grajewski

BRUSSELS, March 4 (Reuters) - The European Union is ready to deepen its ties with Ukraine in the areas of trade, energy, visas and others, if the country's new authorities push ahead with reforms, the bloc's senior official said on Thursday.

The EU hopes Viktor Yanukovich, the ex-Soviet republic's newly elected president, will prove to be pragmatic, despite his strong relations with Russia, capable of restoring political stability and overcoming the economic crisis.

Yanukovich faces a difficult task of stitching together a new ruling coalition after Ukraine's parliament dismissed the government of his rival, prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

On Thursday his party proposed changing the law on the formation of a majority coalition to speed the process, a move Tymoshenko's bloc called a "constitutional coup d'etat". [ID:nLDE62314C]

"Presidential elections and the likely formation of a new government provide both opportunities and challenges for the EU," EU Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fuelle, told a seminar on the bloc's relations with eastern European countries.

"We need to convey a strong message to the new administration: the Commission is committed to having strong relations with Ukraine," he added.

But for that to happen, Ukraine needs to put its political and economic house in order, notably renewing its cooperation with the International Monetary Fund and passing the 2010 budget that would help the country dig itself from deep recession.

It should also overhaul its energy infrastructure, Fuelle said.

"The president should be ready to cooperate with a wide political spectrum, including the opposition," he said. "Ukraine must be serious in its efforts to fight corruption."

A new association agreement with Ukraine, still being negotiated, could include free trade, strong cooperation in energy issues and "a roadmap to a long-term goal of a visa-free travel," he said.

Political rows before the presidential election have thrown Ukraine's economy into disarray, contributing to a crisis that saw gross domestic product contract by 15 percent in 2009.

They also led the suspension of talks with the IMF on a $16.4 billion bailout package.

Yanukovich chose Brussels for his maiden foreign trip as president this week to signal his readiness to boost ties with the 27-nation bloc despite pro-Moscow views and opposition to joining the NATO military alliance.

The EU is eager to see political stability in Ukraine, a country of 46 million that is a transit route for natural gas from Russia to the bloc. Rows between Moscow and Kiev over gas have twice interrupted supplies to the EU in the past. (Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Yanukovych inaugurated: a pseudo Kuchma era?

March 03, 2010

By Pavel Korduban

Viktor Yanukovych was inaugurated as Ukraine’s new president on February 25. His first steps and statements have proved reminiscent of President Leonid Kuchma’s (1994-2004) first term. Yanukovych selected Kuchma’s former secretary as the head of his administration and demonstrated that in foreign policy he will revive the multi-vectored approach of the Kuchma era, when Ukraine played on differences between Russia and the West. Yanukovych also confirmed his inclination toward populism in economic matters.

Yanukovych pledged in his inauguration speech to reform the government, in order that it should become “a team of professionals,” most likely meaning that a future successor to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko will chair a technical cabinet rather than one representing the parties in a coalition. Yanukovych said he would cut spending on government administration to increase pensions and wages. Immediately after the inauguration, he decreed trimming the presidential staff by 20 percent. His team also said that he would cut the presidential salary by 50 percent and trim the staffs of regional governors by 20 percent in order to decrease administrative spending. Similarly, he instructed prosecutors to ensure that the government adheres to parliament’s decision from late last year to increase wages and pensions (Channel 5, Ukrainska Pravda, February 25). This populism is due to the fact that the elections, when popular decisions are important, are not over for Yanukovych. Parliament is expected to schedule local elections for later this year, and early parliamentary elections are possible if Yanukovych fails to form a new coalition in parliament to oust Tymoshenko.

Yanukovych renamed the presidential secretariat into the presidential administration, as it was known under Kuchma. He appointed Serhy Lyovochkin, 37, as head of the administration. Lyovochkin has been a key aide to Yanukovych, and had been Kuchma’s secretary, and officially first assistant. In another move aimed to wipe out his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko’s legacy, Yanukovych removed the banners featuring information about the 1932-1933 famine from the presidential website, (Segodnya, February 27). Yushchenko had cherished the memory of the famine as an important nation-building myth, but this vexed Moscow and many Ukrainians.

In a move aimed against Tymoshenko, who refused to admit her defeat in the February 7 presidential election runoff and to resign, Yanukovych instructed the Prosecutor-General’s Office and the Accounts Chamber to check government spending. This concerns both domestic funds and International Monetary Fund loans which accounted for the bulk of foreign assistance received by Ukraine in 2008-2009. Yanukovych also expressed his concern over the situation with regard to taxation. In particular, he instructed prosecutors to ensure that “the tax administration should not levy taxes three months in advance,” as reportedly was the case under Tymoshenko (Ukrainska Pravda, February 26).

Yanukovych said in his inauguration speech that Ukraine would strive to be an equal partner for Russia, the EU and the US as “a bridge between the East and the West” (Channel 5, February 25). It is becoming clear that Yanukovych is not aiming to make Ukraine Moscow’s puppet as many in the West feared. Ukraine will not join the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, Yanukovych’s economy aide Iryna Akimova told Inter TV on February 26. She said such a union is not on the agenda because it would complicate Ukraine’s relations with the World Trade Organization. Moscow apparently hoped Ukraine would join the customs union under Yanukovych. President Dmitry Medvedev instructed the Federal Customs Service to start preparing the union for Ukraine’s possible membership (ITAR-TASS, February 19). Yanukovych also reiterated his election promise to push for a revision of the 2009 gas accords with Russia so that “the price of gas should be fair” (BBC Ukrainian Service, March 2). However, this may come at the price of accepting Russia’s old plan for an international consortium to manage Ukraine’s gas pipelines.

Yanukovych is scheduled to visit Moscow on March 5, but on March 1 he first visited Brussels to meet with EU officials. There he pledged, like both Kuchma and Yushchenko did before him, that European integration would be Ukraine’s key priority. Yanukovych optimistically predicted that an association agreement and a visa-free regime with the EU would be attained within one year (BBC Ukrainian Service, March 2). Ahead of Yanukovych’s visit, the European Parliament sent a powerful message to Ukraine, by declaring that as a European state that adheres to the principles of democracy and freedom it may apply for EU membership in the future.

Yanukovych’s initial steps are reminiscent of Kuchma, but Kuchma ended his second term as an international pariah. That was due not only to his own mistakes, but also arguably to George W. Bush’s short-sighted foreign policy. Yanukovych, who understands how much depends on America, wants to build his transatlantic bridge. He said in his most recent interview that he wants to meet with Barack Obama to discuss “many questions” (BBC Ukrainian Service, March 2).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fresh talks likely as Kiev alliance fails

By Roman Olearchyk in Kiev

Published: March 3 2010 02:00 | Last updated: March 3 2010 02:00

Ukraine's governing coalition formally collapsed yesterday, setting the stage for fresh alliance talks that could help the country's new president, Viktor Yanukovich, consolidate his grip on power by forming a government loyal to him.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the prime minister who was narrowly beaten in last month's presidential election, is expected to remain in office until a new government is formed.

Volodymyr Lytvyn, parliamentary speaker and a former Tymoshenko ally, announced: "In line with the constitution of Ukraine . . . I announce that the coalition in parliament has ceased its activity."

Ms Tymoshenko alleged that Mr Lytvyn had "illegally" exploited a loophole to declare an end to her fragile coalition.

The announcement came after three factions in parliament that had backed Ms Tymoshenko's coalition failed to submit enough signatures to show they still held a 226-strong majority in the 450-seat legislature.

They include the factions of Ms Tymoshenko, Mr Lytvyn and the Our Ukraine grouping that had backed Viktor Yushchenko, former president.

Ms Tymoshenko warned that the coalition's collapse could concentrate power in Mr Yanukovich's hands and allow him to pursue what she called "anti-Ukrainian" policies.

She could yet challenge the move in the constitutional court, and some commentators forecast that she may cling on as premier for weeks or months.

Monday, March 1, 2010

European integration a `priority`: Ukraine leader

Mon Mar 1, 8:12 am ET

BRUSSELS (AFP) – European integration is a priority for Ukraine's foreign policy, the country's new president said on Monday as he sought to reassure Europe by tempering his pro-Russia image.

"For Ukraine, European integration is a key foreign policy priority," President Viktor Yanukovych told a joint press conference with EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.

Yanukovych arrived in Brussels earlier in the day, markedly making the EU headquarters his first overseas destination since taking power last month.

His predecessor Viktor Yushchenko was a strong proponent for Ukraine joining both the European Union and NATO, prospects which have angered former Soviet overlord Russia.

Yanukovych appeared to retreat from that stance, at least as far as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is concerned.

He said he wanted to "maintain" his country's relationship with NATO at the current level, but that any further moves would depend on future negotiations.

He has previously said he sees the former Soviet republic as a "non-aligned European country", effectively putting an end to any ambitions to join NATO.

The Ukrainian leader and his host fixed the objective of sealing an association agreement -- for closer trade, political, social ties -- within a year.

Discussions on the agreement, which would include the key free-trade deal, are already underway but have made little progress so far.

Yanukovych also promised that his country would in future guarantee the safe transit of Russian natural gas to Europe, after problems in recent years.

Barroso, standing beside him, stressed that "Ukraine is already a European country" but added that it was more important to help Kiev make necessary reforms rather than setting any time-lines for EU membership.

"Ukraine is a European country... by its civilisation, by its culture and its history," said Barroso.

The prospect of inviting the former Soviet republic into the European club divides the EU nations.

Ukraine's EU neighbours and near neighbours, Poland and the Baltic states, are lobbying in favour of Ukraine's adhesion to the EU, to help it avoid being dominated by Russia.

Others feel the 27-nation bloc still has work to do to bed in all the central and east European nations which have gained membership since the 1990s, following the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Barroso urged Ukraine to resume cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, a condition for the European Union to unblock key funding for Kiev.

The EU Commission chief also held out the prospect of future visa-free travel between Europe and Ukraine saying the EU executive would consider this possibility "in a favourable manner", a prospect which will concern those EU nations concerned at the prospect of large-scale immigration.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Yanukovych Sworn In As Ukraine President

Five years after the Orange Revolution ousted him from power, Ukraine's pro-Moscow opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych has been sworn in as president.

Trumpets blared inside Ukraine's parliament building this morning as a confident-looking Yanukovych prepared to take the oath of office after winning a close election earlier this month.

He takes over for Viktor Yushchenko.

The inauguration ends a disputed vote, but not a longstanding political crisis. Yanukovych's opponent in a runoff vote, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, says he stole his victory through fraud, and refuses to recognize the result.

The hall was partly empty during today's ceremony because deputies from her coalition boycotted the event.

But international monitors gave the election a clean bill of health, and during today's ceremony, central election commissions chief Volodymyr Shapoval repeated the ruling that Yanukovych had won by more than 3 percent of the vote.

Lawmakers applauded as Yanukovych took to the stage to be administered the oath of office. It was a remarkable turn of events for the pro-Moscow politician whose victory in a rigged presidential election in 2004 prompted hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets to take part in the Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych was soon ousted from power, after which pro-Western Yushchenko won a new election. He appointed his main ally Tymoshenko prime minister, but the two immediately fell out in bitter infighting that locked Ukraine into five years of political crisis that has stalled promised reforms and disillusioned ordinary Ukrainians.

Neither Yushchenko nor Tymoshenko attended today's ceremony.

'Difficult Situation'

In a speech after taking his oath, Yanukovych said Ukrainians made their voices clear in an election that had put the country on a new path.

"Ukraine is in an extremely difficult situation," he said. "There is no state budget for the current year. The debts on foreign loans are colossal. Poverty, a ruined economy, and corruption are only part of the list of the troubles that constitute Ukrainian reality."

Tymoshenko accuses Yanukovych of representing a group of corrupt business oligarchs who want to roll back the Orange Revolution's democratic gains and put Kyiv back under Moscow's influence. But the former communist official -- who served two jail terms for assault and robbery in his youth -- today said he would establish rules separating business from politics and continue the country's integration into Europe.

"Ukraine will embark on a foreign policy," Yanukovych said, "that will allow our country to fully benefit from equal and mutually beneficial relations with Russia, the European Union and the United States."

Yanukovych is expected to travel to Brussels on March 1 for his first foreign trip as president. At the top of his list of priorities will be to pull the country out of a devastating economic crisis, beginning by restarting talks with the International Monetary Fund, which last year froze a $16.4 billion bailout.

But Yanukovych is also widely expected to steer Ukraine toward Russia, which ridiculed the Orange Revolution and recalled its ambassador last year, saying it would not speak to then-President Yushchenko.

Yanukovych has indicated he would put an end to Ukraine's drive to join NATO and renegotiate a gas-supply deal with Moscow, which some believe would enable him to reestablish closer ties with Russia's Gazprom.

More Jousting To Come

While his inauguration today concludes a bitter election, it doesn’t end an ongoing political crisis that looks set only to escalate.

Tymoshenko has dropped a legal challenge against Yanukovych's election victory, but on February 22 said the portly politician with a reputation for public gaffes "is not our president." She's called on deputies from her coalition to oppose him.

Yanukovych, for his part, has vowed to remove Tymoshenko from office, which may only be possible though snap parliamentary elections later this year. He's also promised to rewrite the country's constitution to give the presidency more power.

In the meantime, the new president is maneuvering to form a new governing coalition and has named three candidates as his possible choices for prime minister. Two took part in the first round of the presidential election last month.

This month's election results reflected a country deeply split between its largely Russian-speaking east -- which overwhelmingly supported Yanukovych -- and its European-leaning West, which backed Tymoshenko.

But less than 50 percent of the electorate voted for Yanukovych, and many across Ukraine say they don't see any significant differences between him and Tymoshenko. Most say they want the new president to create jobs and establish effective governance, neither of which appear likely any time soon.

New Ukraine president inaugurated

Event takes place despite allegations of voter fraud

Viktor Yanukovych was inaugurated as Ukraine's president Thursday, despite allegations by his rival of voter fraud, five years after massive protests of voter fraud thwarted his first bid at the office.

Yanukovych took the oath of office in the Verkhovna Rada, in Kiev. The Ukrainian parliament has been the scene of intense manoeuvring over the future of Yulia Tymoshenko, who aims to stay on as prime minister.

Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in presidential elections Feb. 7. Tymoshenko alleges vote fraud, but has dropped a court case on the claims.

The rivalry is not a new one.

Tymoshenko led the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that paved the way for a rerun of a presidential election in which Yanukovych had been declared winner. He lost the repeated vote to Viktor Yushchenko.

Yanukovych enters office with a shaky mandate, inheriting an economy crippled by the global financial crisis and a nation whose political loyalties are deeply divided.

He has broad support in the Russian-speaking east of the country, but in the Ukrainian-speaking west, he lost in virtually every region to Tymoshenko.

Her refusal to concede defeat and step down from the premiership threatens to prolong the kind of political wrangling that has paralyzed Ukraine's government for several years, deepening the financial crisis that shrank the economy by 15 per cent last year.

The parliament has not even been able to pass a budget for this year

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