Yushchenko Regains Some Power

KIEV -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, at odds for months with his prime minister, on Friday clawed back some powers he had lost since taking office with passage of a new law limiting the government's authority.

Resuming its activity after several days of confrontation, parliament approved a bill on the Cabinet, restoring some powers Yushchenko had lost since taking office in the aftermath of 2004 Orange Revolution.

A total of 245 lawmakers backed the bill in the 450-seat chamber, restoring the president's right to review Cabinet appointments and boost control over defense and foreign policy.

The measures went through after all parties agreed to proceed with debate on a package of legislation that included measures to curb inflation demanded by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yushchenko's powers were trimmed under a political deal to end the 2004 protests over election fraud and were further reduced by legislation passed two years later. He wants to overhaul the constitution to redress the balance between the powers of the government and president.

Yushchenko, prevented by Tymoshenko's supporters from making his annual state of the nation speech to parliament, had the address published in official newspapers and his official web site.

In it, he urged ministers to tackle record inflation and end bickering which has pitched the affairs of state into confusion.

"Imbalances in the state apparatus, the absence of effective power distribution, the anachronistic nature of relations between the centre and the regions and mass corruption make up the main threat to our country and its citizens," he said.

It was time to "halt the madness of political battles. This has become a farce which not only discredits [parliament] and state authority but thoroughly demoralizes public opinion."

He also said it was up to Tymoshenko, his on-again off-again ally since the 2004 mass protests, to take urgent steps to bring down inflation -- now at 30 percent year-on-year.

"The main factor in inflation is an imbalance in supply and demand on our domestic market," he said. "We must fight it not in Soviet style or through controls but through market methods."

He also urged ministers to start talks with Russia on a 2009 gas import price -- a key factor in high inflation after big increases since 2006.

Tymoshenko backed Yushchenko in the 2004 rallies and became his first prime minister only to be sacked seven months later.

She returned to the job last year at the head of a new "orange" coalition. But both leaders, likely rivals in the next presidential election, have sniped over how to curb price increases, oversee privatization and manage state banks.

They also differ over constitutional reform. Yushchenko wants greater powers for the president, while Tymoshenko seeks a parliamentary form of government.

Tymoshenko last week threatened to end her alliance with the president unless criticism of her government stopped.