Ukraine strikers threaten President

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - A strike that has crippled 90 per cent of Ukraine's coal industry and widened ethnic divisions gathered momentum yesterday with large street protests demanding the resignation of the President, Leonid Kravchuk, writes Andrew Higgins.

The strike, which has affected about 200 mines and 100 other industrial firms in the ethnically Russian Donbass mining region, began last week after a surge in prices but has since assumed an increasingly political character. It has weakened to breaking point Ukraine's fragile government. The Deputy Prime Minister, Yuli Yoffe, who is responsible for energy, yesterday resigned over the handling of the dispute.

Among the miners' demands, apart from higher wages, are a thorough shake-up of the leadership in Kiev and more local autonomy for the eastern Russian-speaking regions. The protests are already having some effect: the Ukrainian parliament voted yesterday to consider the miners' call for a nationwide vote of confidence in the President and parliament.

The epicentre of the trouble is the town of Donetsk, where at least 25,000 miners and other workers yesterday joined a protest rally. Parliamenary representatives called for a national vote of confidence in President Kravchuk and parliament. Smaller rallies were reported in other town across eastern Ukraine. Russian speakers in the Crimea have also expressed their support.

Olexander Stoyan, the head of the Federation of Ukrainian Trade Unions, which represents about 20 million workers, has threatened a general strike in Ukraine if the parliament does not meet the workers' economic demands and agree to new elections.