Orange revolution grinds to a halt as Yushchenko sacks entire government

His sudden decision came just eight months after he and his team came to office promising to stamp out the gross corruption which had bedevilled previous administrations.

Julia Tymoshenko, the country's photogenic and fiery Prime Minister, lost her job and was swiftly replaced with an interim, Russian-born premier, Yuri Yekhanurov, who has the job of forming a new government.

Entrenched differences between Ms Tymoshenko and another millionaire minister, Petr Poroshenko, the Secretary of the National Security Council, were said to have brought the revolution to a halt and led to internal intrigues that paralysed decision-making.

Mykola Tomenko, a deputy prime minister who resigned yesterday before the government's dismissals, said relations between the two had deteriorated to the point where there were in effect two governments, one run by Mr Poroshenko and the other by Ms Tymoshenko.

A close ally of Ms Tymoshenko said he would work to realise "the second phase of the orange revolution".

"I don't want to bear collective responsibility for people who have created a system of corruption," he said. "Today the President does not know what's going on in the country."

Speaking on state television, Mr Yushchenko, who has himself recently faced embarrassing questions about his son's high-rolling lifestyle, said he took the decision to disband the government as a last resort. "We are witnessing a paradox. Many new faces have come to power but the face of power has not changed," he said, referring to the previous regime of the Soviet-era apparatchik Leonid Kuchma which was widely regarded as being riddled with cronyism and corruption.

"We need to halt disappointment in society and make sure that the ideals [of the orange revolution] are not cast into doubt." Mr Yushchenko said he had ordered an investigation into allegations that several members of his outgoing government were corrupt. He added, enigmatically, that the accusations were "groundless but very strong" and deserved close scrutiny.

Mr Poroshenko was the most high-profile figure to be accused of wrongdoing. Oleksandr Zinchenko, Mr Yushchenko's chief-of staff and the architect of the orange revolution, resigned from the government on 3 September, accusing Mr Poroshenko, a confectionery millionaire, of using his post to enrich himself, help wealthy businessmen and generally "usurp power". Mr Poroshenko denied the allegations and resigned before the government was sacked so as not, he said, to obstruct an inquiry.

Mr Yushchenko conceded thatordinary Ukrainians had come to see the revolution as little more than a means of transferring wealth from an old elite to a new one. He singled out the case of the Nikopol steel plant, which is being wrestled from Viktor Pinchuk, an oligarch tied to the old elite, so that it can be handed back to the state.

Its new directors have been accused of having links to a bank run by wealthy businessmen said to be close to Ms Tymoshenko. Though she strongly denies any such link, Mr Yushchenko said he was unhappy with the transfer. It was, he said, "falling into the hands of one band of thugs from another instead of being returned to the state".

Ms Tymoshenko is keeping her powder dry until today when she is expected to offer her own view of recent events. Her spokesman was busy last night denying reports that she had allegedly said she felt betrayed by Mr Yushchenko. Parliamentary elections are due in March.

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