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Ukraine parliament clips Yushchenko’s wings

In a major blow to Ukraine`s pro-western president, Viktor Yushchenko, the country`s parliament on Friday boosted the authority of the government headed by his arch-rival, Viktor Yanukovich, prime minister.

In a major blow to Ukraine`s pro-western president, Viktor Yushchenko, the country`s parliament on Friday boosted the authority of the government headed by his arch-rival, Viktor Yanukovich, prime minister.

Legislators overcame a presidential veto to pass legislation that increases the authority of Mr Yanukovich`s government, marginalizing the presidency. The law is a turning point in a power struggle between the pair.

The two leaders have been locked in a political tussle since the Orange Revolution of 2004, clashing over top government posts as well as foreign and domestic policy since Mr Yanukovich assumed the premiership last year.

Mr Yushchenko`s allies described the law as an attempt to "usurp" power in the country.

Backed by a majority of legislators and enjoying the support of Yulia Tymoshenko`s opposition bloc, Mr Yanukovich`s governing coalition mustered more than the two-thirds support required to override the veto.

In return, Ms Tymoshenko garnered support for a law granting the opposition oversight over the government and another bill permitting parties to eject members from parliament and regional legislative bodies as punishment for voting against the party line.

The latter is expected to help Ms Tymoshenko`s camp halt the exodus of legislators from its faction and to form a majority in the city council in Kiev, Ukraine`s capital.

Ms Tymoshenko, a firebrand politician, played a major role in mustering support for Mr Yushchenko during the 2004 presidential elections, but their relations soured after was sacked as prime minister in 2005.

The votes came as a surprise. Days earlier Mr Yushchenko and Mr Yanukovich appeared to have mapped out plans for a compromise on cabinet appointments.

The new law undermines presidential authority in several key areas. It authorises the government to rebut decisions by regional officials appointed by the president. It also limits Mr Yushchenko`s authority over the foreign, interior and defence ministries.

An aide to Mr Yushchenko said the law violates twelve constitutional norms and promised to challenge it through a constitutional court.

Oles Dony, a political analyst in Kiev, said: "This situation is proof of the continuation of dangerous tendencies in Ukraine`s political arena, namely the lack of transparency, the inability to stick with political agreements reached, repeated backroom dealings and violations in voting procedures."

Mr Yanukovich, who suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2004 presidential elections despite Russian backing, staged a remarkable comeback last August after Mr Yushchenko nominated him as prime minister in an attempt to end four months of political paralysis.

Mr Yushchenko secured safeguards for his pro-western agenda, namely swift integration with the European Union, Nato and the World Trade Organization. His allies have since accused Mr Yanukovich of stalling reforms and blocking Ukraine`s integration with the west.

This news was monitored by the ArtUkraine Monitoring Service for the Action Ukraine Report.

By Roman Olearchyk in Kiev, Financial Times

London, United Kingdom, Saturday, January 13, 2007

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