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Sunday, 17 December, 2000, 01:28 GMT
Ukrainian president under pressure
Ukrainian protesters
Left-wing protesters are urging Mr Kuchma to resign
By Paul Anderson in Kiev

The Ukrainian President, Leonid Kuchma, is struggling to shake off allegations of involvement in the disappearance of an acclaimed journalist critical of his government.

The case has gripped the political and journalistic establishment in Ukraine and has cast a shadow over Mr Kuchma as he basked in the international limelight for the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power station.

Parliamentary deputies are calling on Mr Kuchma to dismiss ministers they allege played a role in the fate of the journalist, Georgy Gongadze, who disappeared without trace three months ago.

Deputies were shown a videotape in which a man identifying himself as a former Secret Service officer said he had evidence of conversations between the President and security officials discussing the removal of opponents.

Mr Kuchma has refused to sack his ministers and is trying to ride out the scandal. He has appeared on state television to dismiss the allegations and has appealed to the people to do the same.

Corruption allegations

The Ukrainian Parliament, the Rada, has spent three days this week debating the allegations, which have cast a shadow over Mr Kuchma as he basks in the international limelight for the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power station.

President Leonid Kuchma
The scandal comes at a bad time for Mr Kuchma
Mr Gongadze was highly critical on his award winning website, Ukrainian Pravda, of what he saw as the corrupt and crony-ridden administration of the president and some members of the Ukrainian business community.

Those pursuing the case say a decapitated corpse found on the outskirts of Kiev may be that of Mr Gongadze, although it has not yet been formally identified.

Mr Kuchma has repeatedly denied any involvement and characterises the whole affair as an attempt by political enemies to stoke instability for their own ends.

Poor timing

The affair casts the country in a bad light and it comes at a bad time.

Next week the International Monetary Fund is due to consider whether to release a frozen $2.5bn lending package.

The allegations may undermine Ukraine's case, despite its commitments to economic reform and transparent liberal government.

And try as he might, President Kuchma is finding himself embroiled deeper and deeper in a tale of high power intrigue.

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See also:

29 Nov 00 | Media reports
Death, lies and audiotape - Ukraine-style
19 Sep 00 | Media reports
Outspoken Ukraine journalist missing
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