Ukraine PM resigns in battle with President

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The Independent Online
KIEV (AP/Reuter) - Ukraine's Prime Minister, Leonid Kuchma, resigned yesterday after President Leonid Kravchuk asked MPs for nearly complete control of the government.

The resignation came an hour after Mr Kravchuk's request to be made sole head of government, with powers to reform the sagging economy by executive fiat.

'I have asked (Mr Kravchuk) to take upon himself responsibility for affairs,' Mr Kuchma told parliament. 'So that you understand that I am acting honourably, I ask you to accept my resignation.'

The 450-seat parliament, elected when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, went into recess after Mr Kuchma's surprise offer and it was unclear when deputies would vote on the resignation or on Mr Kravchuk's request.

As prime minister, Mr Kuchma had the decree-making powers that Mr Kravchuk seeks. Those powers expire today. Mr Kuchma had asked parliament for a one-year extension, saying he would resign if refused. When MPs failed to put the extension to a vote, he did so.

'It appears that my government will not get the special powers it asked for,' he said. 'And during two days of debate, I did not hear a single good word about my government.'

Mr Kravchuk told parliament he hoped to break the political paralysis gripping Ukraine by assuming sole power. Reform in this nation of 52 million has moved at a snail's pace, with only about 100 of 68,000 state-owned enterprises privatised so far.

Mr Kuchma had defended his reform programme in three days of debate against deputies denouncing large price increases and calling for restoration of heavy state subsidies to industry.

'We have to be responsible,' he said. 'If I was sitting in your seats, perhaps I too would call for no price increases or for more state credits. But I cannot do this with a clear conscience.' Mr Kuchma had promoted swift privatisation and moved to reduce a huge budget deficit since taking office last October.

Mr Kravchuk, a former Communist Party official and the first popularly elected president of Ukraine, has not played an active role in economic reform and it is unclear what direction his policy will take.