Sat, Mar 28, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Residents of Kiev call for resignation of ‘Cosmos’

AP , KIEV

Protesters shout during a rally in the center of Kiev, Ukraine, on Thursday. Participants demanded the resignation of Kiev Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky and the cancelation of increased charges for municipal services.

PHOTO: AFP

Hundreds of angry Kiev residents picketed the office of the city’s increasingly unpopular mayor, an eccentric millionaire who sings at rallies, poses in Speedos to show off his good health and goes by the nickname “Cosmos.”

Angered by major price hikes for public transport, utilities and medical care, the protesters on Thursday demanded that mayor Leonid Chernovetsky resign.

But so far the 57-year-old has proved highly resilient, despite widespread accusations of corruption and erratic behavior often bordering on the absurd.

He survived an early vote last year that was initiated by Ukraine’s parliament in an attempt to unseat him. He is now fending off an investigation over controversial sales of city land and even a parliamentary inquiry into whether he is mentally fit to hold office.

Eager to demonstrate he is of sound body and mind, he invited journalists to watch him earlier this month jogging, doing chin-ups and diving into a swimming pool in his tight Speedo suit.

“They are judging me today,” Chernovetsky said, after he emerged from the water and flexed his muscles. “They want me to spend my whole life behind bars in a psychiatric ward. I want to demonstrate to the whole world that I am completely healthy, both physically and psychologically.”

Chernovetsky says his nickname is derived from his policies, which are “cosmic” and “completely unusual for Ukraine.”

Chernovetsky was elected Kiev mayor in 2006 in a surprise win over the capital’s incumbent mayor and boxing heavyweight champion Vitaly Klitschko.

His critics charge he won the race through questionable tactics such as donating pasta, sugar and other food to Kiev’s pensioners. He was re-elected last May, largely because of his opponents’ failure to unite behind a single candidate.

Chernovetsky has acknowledged on national TV that he had given bribes worth US$21 million when he was a businessman in the early 1990s. But he denies bribing his voters, calling himself “the humble mayor who loves babushkas.”

In an effort to increase revenues, he has proposed charging foreigners to live here, selling his kisses in a lottery and introducing entry fees for visits to city cemeteries.

Chernovetsky’s opponents have accused his administration of giving away or selling through non-transparent auctions about 300 plots of land worth several billion dollars in late 2007. Parliament is now investigating those transactions.

About 2,000 elderly women, students and bus drivers from all political groups waived flags in front of Chernovetsky’s office on Thursday and chanted “Down with the mayor!”

The drivers parked dozens of buses on Kiev’s main streets, blocking traffic to protest job layoffs.

“It’s not that he doesn’t respect us, it’s that he is mocking us!” said Dmytro Antonenko, a 50-year-old teacher. “We like him as a singer, but as a singer only.”

Chernovetsky vowed he would not be intimidated and said that he still planned to run for president in an election expected in early January.

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