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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 December, 2003, 20:52 GMT
Ukraine constitution vote blocked
By Helen Fawkes
BBC correspondent in Kiev

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma
Kuchma is due to step down in October after two terms
Opposition parties in Ukraine have disrupted parliament in order to stop a controversial vote on the constitution being held.

The amendments which have been drafted by supporters of the president would mean the next incumbent is elected by the parliament.

Politicians against the changes blocked the rostrum and made noise to drown out the speaker's voice.

The sound of police sirens and shouts of "Kuchma out!" were heard.

Parliament was supposed to be voting on proposals drafted by supporters of President Leonid Kuchma.

Punch-up

The amendments to the constitution include the next president being elected by parliament instead of the public.

It is an attempt to stage a criminal, anti-constitutional coup in parliament. The real aim of this so-called reform is to preserve Kuchma's rule in Ukraine
Opposition statement

Mr Kuchma is only allowed to serve two terms, but opposition parties fear the changes could mean he will attempt to prolong his rule or at least ensure a loyalist takes the post.

To stop the debate, deputies physically blocked the rostrum and at one point a fight broke out.

The Our Ukraine Party also hung up a banner which said: "Hands off our constitution".

To get the law changed requires two parliamentary votes, but the government could find this difficult as opposition parties have threatened to occupy parliament until they stop the constitution being amended.


SEE ALSO:
Profile: Leonid Kuchma
26 Sep 02  |  Europe
Ukraine MPs can elect president
11 Dec 03  |  Europe
Huge anti-Kuchma rally in Kiev
09 Mar 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Ukraine
12 Nov 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Ukraine
12 Nov 03  |  Country profiles



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