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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kuchma Summoned by Ukraine Parliament

KIEV — Ukraine’s parliament has summoned President Leonid Kuchma and other officials for a hearing into the latest in a series of political scandals.

After two days of heated debates over the disappearance in mid-September of journalist Georgy Gongadze, the lawmakers decided Wednesday to call security ministers and Kuchma to a special session Thursday.

Powerful leftist factions and many center-right deputies were expected to demand that Kuchma sack Leonid Derkach, head of the SBU security police, and Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko.

Kuchma, accused by some opposition politicians of having played a role in Gongadze’s disappearance, did not plan to attend, UNIAN news agency quoted a spokesman as saying.

The president, who has pledged to defend his name in court, later appeared on state television and reiterated fierce denials that he had played a role in Gongadze’s disappearance.

"As a responsible person I declare that this is a provocation," he said. "Everything that has happened and is happening today are activities against Ukraine, designed to destabilize the political situation."

Gongadze helped to run a web site, www.pravda.com.ua, which was frequently critical of the government. The web site has said it believes a decapitated corpse found in the countryside is that of the missing journalist.

The presidential press service played down the hearings, saying they were in line with "normal parliamentary practice" and the current situation was not yet a political crisis.

Kuchma was due to visit the Chernobyl nuclear plant Thursday ahead of its closure.

But tensions in parliament have mounted. On Tuesday deputies watched a videotaped interview with a former presidential guard who said he had been making secret recordings of Kuchma’s conversations for a long time.

The guard, who identified himself as Mykola Melnychenko, a retired major of the SBU, said he had recorded Kuchma with a tape recorder hidden under a sofa in the president’s office and handed some tapes to Socialist Party leader Olexander Moroz.

The scandal broke two weeks ago, when Moroz told parliament he had an audio cassette that he said showed Kuchma’s involvement in the disappearance of Gongadze.

Kuchma repeated denials that the conversations had taken place and said he had been urging officials to find Gongadze.

"There could not have been any such talks with my participation," he told state television. "In my opinion he [Gongadze] was no different from other journalists who persistently view the authorities’ actions, including mine, from a critical viewpoint."

"I have been constantly demanding from law enforcement agencies that they do everything possible and impossible to find him," he said.

Moroz, an ex-speaker of parliament and a challenger to Kuchma in a presidential election last year, said last week the cassette had been sent for examination to the Council of Europe, a human rights and democracy body, as well as to Ukraine’s prosecutor general.