KIEV, Ukraine (AP) _ Politicians and the press on Wednesday condemned the detention of a high-profile businessman and political candidate as a tactic intended to silence critics of Ukraine's president.

Mykhaylo Brodsky, who is running for mayor of Kiev and for a Parliament seat, was charged Wednesday with receiving large sums of money through illegal trade, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

Brodsky is also president of a financial concern that saw many of its operations collapse last year amid probes by law enforcement bodies.

Brodsky has declared a hunger strike and claimed his detention was politically motivated, the newspaper Kievskiye Vedomosti reported Wednesday. Brodsky is a shareholder in the popular paper.

An editorial in Kievskiye Vedomosti speculated the detention was prompted in part by recent articles criticizing President Leonid Kuchma and his circle.

But Interior Ministry spokesman Viktor Krivorotko said Brodsky's detention had nothing to do with politics, calling it a ``purely criminal'' matter.

Volodymyr Horbulin, the Security and Defense Council secretary, said that Bank Dendi, one of Brodsky's concerns that collapsed last year, owed depositors more than $2 million.

Brodsky has contended that the bank's failure was prompted by government investigations and interference.

The liberal Reforms and Order party said the detention shows the government is trying to ``remove its political opponents and bring Ukraine closer to an authoritarian, undemocratic regime,'' the Interfax news agency reported.

With the elections approaching, Kuchma's administration has been accused of abusing its power to weaken the opposition. Earlier this year, the government closed a newspaper supporting Pavlo Lazarenko, a former prime minister who now leads an opposition party.

An Interior Ministry statement said earlier efforts to prosecute Brodsky were unsuccessful because of legislation _ voided by Parliament last month _ that had granted local lawmakers immunity. Brodsky is a member of a Kiev district council.