Ukrainian Chief, Opposition Meet
Sep. 25, 2002
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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) _ Ukraine's president met on Wednesday with opposition leaders demanding his ouster, agreeing only to have parliament investigate U.S. allegations that he approved the transfer of illicit military technology to Iraq.
President Leonid Kuchma temporarily defused an escalating political standoff by meeting with lawmakers from the four main opposition parties who occupied part of his administration building Tuesday and launched a hunger strike. But he refused the lawmakers' written demand to step down or call new elections, despite a rally by more than 5,000 people seeking to unseat him.
``He (Kuchma) said: 'I know what is written there, this is an ultimatum, but I am the president, elected by a majority of the nation,''' said Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, who attended the meeting with opposition leaders. The opposition gave Kuchma until Sunday to reply to their demands.
The anti-Kuchma coalition represents the full spectrum of society, ranging from leftists and nationalist lawmakers who oppose his politics to rank-and-file Ukrainians fed up with years of corruption and economic struggle.
Kuchma is serving his second five-year term since 1994. The opposition accuses him of complicity in the disappearance and killing two years ago of an investigative journalist, allegations that the president has denied. The opposition also blames him for the nation's pervasive crony capitalism, endemic graft and electoral fraud.
Adding to the president's troubles, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday it had authentic audiotapes provided by a former Ukrainian security official indicating that Kuchma personally approved the transfer of a Kolchuha radar system to Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions.
``The tape has been authenticated,'' Marie Yovanovitch, second in command at the U.S. Embassy, said Wednesday. That ``the president of a country that is a member of the United Nations is actively seeking to go around U.N. sanctions is extremely troubling to us,'' she added.
The Ukrainian government denied that arms were sold to Baghdad.
Calling U.S. allegations ``indiscriminate accusations'' not backed by proof, Yuriy Serheyev, state secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said ``the manipulation of facts has its limits.''
He reminded journalists that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan confirmed in June that a special U.N. commission found no evidence of any violation of sanctions by Ukraine.
Serheyev also questioned the timing of the U.S. allegations _ coming as Kuchma faced one of the greatest political crises in his eight years in office.
``We would not like to think that there is any connection between the (U.S.) statement and our internal political situation,'' Serheyev said. ``What we're really worried about is the outright impropriety of the allegations ... which affects relations between two long-standing, serious partners and feeds those who would like to see Ukraine included in what is called the 'axis of evil.'''
The United States has had the tapes for months, but Yovanovitch could not confirm the date they were authenticated or when the decision was made to suspend some $54 million in aid to Ukraine as a result of the recording.
Ukraine's only manufacturer of Kolchuhas, the Topaz factory, has only produced ``three or four'' such radar systems, said Ihor Kharchenko, deputy secretary of Foreign Affairs Ministry. Three Kolchuhas were sold to Ethiopia and the fourth is in ``pre-contract negotiations with a large country, not subject to U.N. sanctions,'' he said.