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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kuchma Seeks Conciliatory Assembly

KIEV -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said Monday there could be no return to the past for his country eight years after it broke away from the Soviet Union, and economic development had to get top priority.

Kuchma, who last week launched his campaign for re-election in October, called for a parliament with a clear majority that would provide orientation for government policies as well as the implementation of key reforms such as a new tax code.

"A return to the previous [Soviet] political and economic system, which proved its uselessness and lack of any future, is inadmissible," Kuchma told dignitaries at a celebration to mark Ukraine's eighth independence anniversary, which was Tuesday.

"The economy must be the subject of our constant attention," Kuchma added, calling for pension and tax code reforms, increased industrial output, support for social programs and the fledgling middle class.

He called for economic growth and improved living standards, saying gross domestic product should rise by 2 percent next year and by 6 percent to 7 percent annually thereafter.

But he said there was no easy fix for the economy which, like living standards, has shrunk each year since independence.

Last month's fuel crisis, due both to government policies and a rise in world oil prices, drove the hryvna currency sharply lower and created extra problems for farms struggling to harvest an already low crop.

Billions of hryvnas in wages and pensions, worth only $15 to $40 per person, remain unpaid and thousands of Ukrainians live mostly off their kitchen gardens.

Kuchma's three closest rivals in the presidential race are all leftist candidates highly critical of his record, although pundits so far say their chances of beating Kuchma are slim unless they can bury their differences.

Kuchma's government has also come under fire from Western economists and international lenders for failing to make good on regular promises to speed up reforms.

But Kuchma, whose campaign slogans portray him as a bulwark of "peace and harmony," blames the left-dominated parliament for obstructing critical legislation.

"Parliament's work must be formed on the basis of a responsible majority," Kuchma said, without detailing how such a majority could be formed. "The Cabinet should be formed and work in accordance with the existing parliamentary majority."

Saying the country was politically fractured, he said he would propose "radical measures" to prevent paralysis from gripping the country before and after the presidential election, but gave no details.