Upheaval In Ukraine

Opposition protesters carry a mock image of Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma in a wooden cage, and gallows, left, to hold a mock trial of the president during the ongoing protest "Ukraine without Kuchma" in downtown Kiev Sunday Feb. 25, 2001. The opposition accuses Kuchma of involvement in a case of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze whose disappearance last September caused a scandal, and the allegations have brought Ukraine into a political crisis followed by numerous protests across the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
The Communist-dominated parliament dismissed reform-oriented Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko and his government on Thursday, plunging the nation into political chaos.

The ouster of the most successful Cabinet since Ukraine's independence in 1991 was likely to slow reforms in this largely impoverished nation and damage its international standing.

In the final vote on a no-confidence motion, parliament by a 263-69 margin approved a Communist-sponsored resolution accusing the government of failing to improve the economy and leading the country to ruin. The Constitution requires the prime minister to hand in his resignation, and President Leonid Kuchma is extremely unlikely to reject it.

The votes came despite efforts by Yushchenko and Kuchma to defuse the crisis by holding urgent consultations with parliamentary leaders.

The nation has already been rocked by a monthslong political crisis sparked by the disappearance of a critical journalist and allegations of Kuchma's involvement in his killing.

Addressing parliament before the votes Thursday, Yushchenko proposed a moratorium on hostile political actions, and said he was ready to sign an accord with parliament and accommodate many of its demands for Cabinet changes.

"Today, Ukraine's future road is the supreme question," Yushchenko said. "The only way to resolve the political crisis is through compromise."

But the prime minister was defeated by an unlikely parliamentary alliance of hard-line Communists who opposed his reforms and centrist and other factions, some of which are led by powerful businessmen. They have sought to form an obedient coalition government ahead of parliamentary elections in 2002.

Yushchenko again rejected the idea Thursday, saying he "would work only with professional ministers who obey the premier and share the path of reforms," said his spokeswoman Natalia Zarudna.

In spite of his conflict with the legislature, polls have indicated that Yushchenko is Ukraine's most trusted politician.

The former central banker was named to lead the government in late 1999. He is credited with reviving chronically sluggish economic reforms, paying a significant portion of overdue wages and pensions, and achieving the first signs of economic growth since Ukraine gained independence in 1991.

Yushchenko's position has been complicated by the wide support he has earned among anti-Kuchma opposition groups who accuse the president of involvement in the slaying of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and seek his ouster. There is wide speculation that Kuchma considers him a dangerous rival.

About 1,000 Yushchenko supporters gathered near the parliament early Thursday, waving flags and listening to the debates that were broadcast through loudspeakers.

The Cabinet will become a caretaker government for a maximum 60 days, until a new government is formed.

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