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Sunday, 11 February, 2001, 15:43 GMT
Analysis: Kuchma under pressure
Protests in Kiev
Huge demonstrations have called for Mr Kuchma to go
By Robert Parsons in Kiev and Stephen Dalziel

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, beset by allegations of complicity in a journalist's murder, is facing his most serious crisis since being re-elected 15 months ago.

Ukraine has seen nothing like it since the dying days of the Soviet Union.

A country brought to despair by poverty and the corruption of its political elite is in outrage.

Leonid Kuchma
Mr Kuchma has resisted demands to resign
Thousands of demonstrators have converged on Kiev from all over the country. At night they sleep in a tent city in the capital's main shopping street; by day they demand that President Kuchma step down.

The protest has united Ukraine's usually fractious political opposition. Leading politicians have put aside their differences to call for Mr Kuchma's impeachment.

To achieve that, they will need a two-thirds majority in parliament - out of the question a few months ago but increasingly on the cards now.

Reform promises

Mr Kuchma swept back to power in November 1999, promising that he would use his mandate to push ahead with the reforms which are so desperately needed to revive Ukraine's flagging economy.

But even before the result of the election was known, there were question marks over Mr Kuchma's democratic credentials.

Investigations by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, into the role of the media in the election campaign showed that Mr Kuchma had taken advantage of his position as president to monopolise election coverage, to the detriment of his opponents.

There are now serious doubts over the fairness of a referendum in April last year, which gave more power to the president at the expense of parliament.

Corruption is believed to be widespread in government ministries, especially in the energy sector.

The deputy prime minister in charge of energy, Yuliya Timoshenko, was recently dismissed by Mr Kuchma, apparently because she had upset too many of those who were gaining from corruption.

And whilst the murder of the opposition journalist, Georgiy Gongadze, is the most outrageous example of attacks on the freedom of the media, independent journalists throughout Ukraine are currently under pressure to toe the official line.

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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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