Ukrainian PM refuses to stand down and assails president


UKRAINE:UKRAINE'S POWER struggle intensified yesterday as Yulia Tymoshenko refused to resign as prime minister and made light of an alleged poisoning plot that almost killed President Viktor Yushchenko in 2004, writes Daniel McLaughlin

Mr Yushchenko's party withdrew from the ruling alliance after he accused Ms Tymoshenko of trying to oust him with the help of the pro-Russian opposition, but she has rejected his calls to step down and refuses to accept that her government should disband.

The relationship between the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution — which overturned the fraudulent election victory of the Kremlin-backed opposition chief — collapsed because of what Mr Yushchenko calls Ms Tymoshenko's overweening ambition and what she calls his desire to undermine her popularity.

Before being interviewed as a witness in the alleged dioxin poisoning which left Mr Yushchenko badly disfigured, Ms Tymoshenko said yesterday: "The main poisoning is the poisoning with unlimited power, a serious intoxication in the presidential secretariat."

That came a day after she launched a fierce verbal attack on Mr Yushchenko, who has threatened to call elections unless a new coalition is formed within a month. He says Ms Tymoshenko has already created a de facto alliance with the opposition to secure Moscow's support, or at least acquiescence, to her expected bid for the presidency in 2010.

"Since 2004, this president has managed to destroy everything: people's faith in the ideals of the revolution and faith in the president himself — only five per cent still support him," Ms Tymoshenko said. "Unfortunately, this president will leave a legacy of shattered remnants of the 'orange' promises and democratic coalitions, of his own team and even of his friends and his own political standing."

She said it would be "irresponsible" to call elections in the current volatile financial climate, but insisted that "should that situation occur, we will have no qualms". Opinion polls put Ms Tymoshenko's bloc and Viktor Yanukovich's opposition group far ahead of Mr Yushchenko's party.

Amid fears that Moscow could follow its intervention in Georgia with attempts to destabilise Ukraine's mostly ethnic Russian Crimea region, Mr Yushchenko oversaw military exercises intended to show that his country could "defend its borders".

President Dmitry Medvedev, meanwhile, said Russia was "ready for honest, all-encompassing, deep and absolutely mutually profitable co-operation with Ukraine. No opportunism, no new foreign policy sympathies, no internal crises must be allowed to undermine our relations," he added.