Ukraine MPs get a harsh warning

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - Ukraine's President Leonid Kravchuk offered a referendum on his leadership yesterday amid a warning from his own Prime Minister that dictatorship would be clamped on the country within a month if parliament did not grant emergency powers to save the economy from collapse, writes Andrew Higgins.

'The government needs extraordinary powers. There is still time,' the Prime Minister, Leonid Kuchma, said in an emotional speech to parliament in Kiev. 'Otherwise we will have to do it within a dictatorship.' He also offered to 'go down on his knees' to end a crippling mine strike.

Ukraine, already battered by runaway inflation that has sent its currency into a nosedive against even the sickly Russian rouble, has been hammered over the the past week by a miners' strike in the Russian-speaking Donbass area.

More than 200 coalmines and scores of factories have joined what began as an economic protest over a surge in prices but has become an onslaught on the government. It has stirred alarm that Ukraine is so fragile it could fragment along ethnic lines. According to Mr Kuchma, steel and chemical industries will halt within days if the strike continues.

Hoping to defuse the crisis and copy Boris Yeltsin's referendum triumph in Russia in April, President Kravchuk yesterday proposed a national vote of confidence on his own rule and parliamentary elections by next January. The suggestion, though, promptly sank into a swamp of inconclusive debate.