Replacement Picked For Ukraine Premier

KIEV -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma named close political ally Pavlo Lazarenko as prime minister of the former Soviet republic Tuesday while his predecessor angrily protested over his dismissal.

Former collective farm manager Lazarenko, the fifth prime minister in as many years of Ukrainian independence, took his place in parliament quietly alongside Kuchma who appointed him after sacking Yevhen Marchuk on Monday.

Lazarenko had previously served as first deputy prime minister with special responsibility for the key energy sector.

Kuchma said Marchuk, a former head of the Ukrainian Security Service, had paid more attention to his own political career than to repairing the former Soviet republic's poor economy.

Marchuk, 55, in his first public comment since being dismissed after less than a year in office, said he would not tolerate Kuchma's accusations.

"He cannot blame the entire economic crisis on one prime minister," Marchuk said. "The roots of these problems go a lot deeper."

Marchuk would not comment on suggestions by analysts that he might now feel inclined to challenge Kuchma openly as an influential centrist leader. But polls suggest Marchuk is one of the major players in Ukrainian politics.

Relations between the president and his former first minister had deteriorated in recent months and sources in the presidential office have said Kuchma saw Marchuk as a political rival and future challenger for the presidency.

Known as a close ally to Kuchma, 43-year-old Lazarenko is the former governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, an agronomist, and a former collective farm manager. The eastern industrial city is Kuchma's home town.

Deputy prime minister Olexander Yemets told reporters that replacing Marchuk with Lazarenko would make little difference to Ukraine's economic situation.

But Yemets said Marchuk's sparring with Kuchma in the media lowered his estimation in the eyes of the public.

Last week Marchuk broke ranks with Kuchma and, in the face of growing social dissatisfaction, asked the government to soften its tough economic reform program, which Marchuk blamed for causing a $1 billion wage crisis and a drop in production.

He had also suggested Ukraine hold both presidential and parliamentary elections after the country adopts a new constitution -- which may happen this summer.

Ukraine's next elections are due in 1999.