Sun, Jun 03, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Lawmakers in Ukraine complete early election bills

AP , KIEV

Ukrainian lawmakers on Friday finished passing the 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.

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

Under an agreement between Yushchenko and his rival, Ukranian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the elections are to be held on Sept. 30.

Ukraine's political tensions 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 and the Interior Ministry, led by another Yanukovych ally, sent police to Piskun's office to prevent his eviction.

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

Tensions cooled when the president and premier last 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 EU. Yanukovych is seen as more oriented toward Russia.

Among the bills passed on Friday was one setting the minimum turnout level for valid elections at 50 percent, despite opposition demands not to have a minimum. The parliament also dismissed all members of the central election commission and appointed new ones and allocated 365 million hryvna (US$72.3 million) for the early elections.

Also on Friday, Yushchenko appointed Oleksandr Medvedko as prosecutor-general. He had fired Medvedko from the position this year, but brought him back to replace Piskun.

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.

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