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The BBC's Sam Whipple
"They are incensed by a sensational scandal"
 real 56k

Saturday, 10 February, 2001, 00:00 GMT
Ukraine president defies calls to quit
President Leonid Kuchma
President Kuchma is looking increasingly embattled
Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma has hit back at opposition moves to remove him from office saying they "threatened national security".

Mr Kuchma was responding to a rare show of unity between opposition parties who say they intend to set up a Forum for National Salvation and organise further "Ukraine without Kuchma" street protests.

Anti Kuchma protest
The opposition has organised anti-Kuchma street marches
The crisis in Ukraine began last year when Mr Kuchma was implicated in the disappearance of an investigative journalist, which the opposition says is part of a wider effort by the authorities to supress free speech.

His remarks came only hours after a leading Ukrainian independent television station said it was under systematic political pressure from the security services to conform to the government's agenda.

Levko Lukyanenko, a former dissident who spent 20 years in Soviet prisons, said the forum was being set up to "speed up the liberation of society from this corrupt regime."

Economic warning

Mr Kuchma responded by saying the Forum would damage Ukraine economically.

"We must understand today that psychological and information war is much worse than the conventional type

President Kuchma
He warned: "If strategic investors and serious foreign companies do not come to Ukraine to take part in privatisations - the results will be fairly obvious."

President Kuchma also attacked the foreign media for spreading what he described as "fairy tales" about his country.

The crisis began with the disappearance of journalist Georgiy Gongadze last year. Relatives say a decapitated corpse found outside Kiev last November is Gongadze's body.

An opposition politician has published tapes of a voice similar to President Kuchma's saying he wanted to be rid of the reporter.

Kuchma defiant

Mr Kuchma, a former Soviet rocket factory director who was re-elected for a five-year term in 1999, denies involvement and has so far shown little sign of relinquishing his grip on power.

State officials regularly interfering in coverage of political events

1+1 Television
Thousands have marched through major cities calling for his resignation and guarantees of free speech. Gongadze's supporters accuse authorities of trying to cover up his murder.

Ukraine's 1+1 television station, which has alternated between support and criticism of Mr Kuchma and the authorities has joined leading European democracy and human rights groups in saying free speech was under attack.

"Not only are state officials regularly interfering in coverage of political events, they are using their status to settle personal accounts with the independent media," read a statement from the station.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | Europe
Headless journalist 'identified'
29 Nov 00 | Media reports
Death, lies and audiotape - Ukraine-style
19 Sep 00 | Media reports
Outspoken Ukraine journalist missing
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ukraine
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