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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukrainian Ministers Ousted in Reshuffle

KIEV -- President Leonid Kuchma has dismissed several senior officials as part of a long-standing pledge to shake up the Cabinet, officials said Friday.

Kuchma and Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko had been promising to reshuffle the Cabinet since last fall. They said new faces were needed to improve the government's efficiency and improve cooperation with the leftist parliament, which often sinks government bills.

The highest official ousted so far was First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Holubchenko, who oversaw the coal industry and the oil and gas sector. He is being replaced by Volodymyr Kuratchenko, formerly governor of the heavily industrialized Zaporizhia region.

Ukraine's gas sector, considered one of the more lucrative sectors of the economy, was recently at the center of a corruption scandal involving former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko. Ukrainian and Swiss police are investigating Lazarenko on charges of laundering money, most of which he allegedly earned by illegally siphoning abroad profits from gas imports in 1996-97.

Ukrainian media say several more officials may still be profiting from controls imposed over the gas and oil market.

Kuchma on Friday replaced Education Minister Mykhailo Zhurovsky with Valentyn Zaichuk of the Ukrainian Institute of Pedagogy and dismissed Foreign Economic Relations Minister Serhiy Osyka and Health Minister Andriy Serdiuk.

He also fired four deputy ministers Thursday. The dismissed officials were fired "in connection with taking a different job,'' the presidential press service said without providing more details.

But at a news conference Friday, Pustovoitenko said some of the dismissals, including those of the four deputy ministers, had to do with their "not very good performance,'' Interfax reported.

Pustovoitenko said Kuchma would make other "significant changes'' in the Cabinet in the near future, but did not name anyone.

Despite frequent pledges of reform, the Cabinet, formed in the summer of 1997, has failed to stop the continuing economic decline the former Soviet republic has experienced since receiving independence in 1991.

Also Friday, Ukraine's parliament approved a bill on presidential elections, nine months before the Oct. 31 vote.

The 450-seat Verkhovna Rada voted 232-23 to approve the legislation, which for the first time allows political parties to nominate candidates.

Presidential nominees can also be proposed by a group of at least 500 voters, according to the new bill, but one cannot nominate oneself. Every nominated candidate must collect 1 million signatures among Ukraine's 35 million eligible voters to be on the ballot.

The new bill needs to be signed by Kuchma within 15 days, and many observers fear the president will veto it. Kuchma has said he would seek a second five-year presidential term.

Oleksandr Lavrynovych, one of the bill's authors, said it faces a "guaranteed presidential veto'' since it gives the authorities fewer possibilities to influence the elections.

The campaign officially begins in March, and Kuchma faces a growing army of contenders, including former parliament Speaker Oleksandr Moroz and former Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk. Lazarenko, current Speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko and several other candidates are also expected to run.