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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yushchenko Calls for New Constitution

APA fish-eye lens view of soldiers marching past Yushchenko during Ukrainian Independence Day celebrations Friday.
KIEV -- President Viktor Yushchenko on Friday pledged quick action to restore presidential powers in Ukraine after early elections next month meant to end a political deadlock with the prime minister.

Yushchenko said he was setting up a constitutional council to proceed with changes to be approved by a countrywide referendum.

He said the Sept. 30 parliamentary elections, intended to end a long power struggle pitting him against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, was a chance to be seized by the population.

"I know how to put order into our Ukrainian home. We will start by renewing the constitution," Yushchenko said at a ceremony celebrating the 16th anniversary of Ukraine's independence from Soviet rule. "I am proceeding with the convening of a national constitutional council that will produce a new draft of the Ukrainian Constitution."

Under Ukrainian law, the parliament must approve constitutional changes by a two-third vote, a considerable undertaking given the persistent divisions in the fractious assembly and the country at large.

"The country wants to see a responsible system of government," Yushchenko said to polite applause from a crowd of several hundred people -- some clad in traditional peasant-style shirts and skirts -- in front of Kiev's landmark St. Sofia Cathedral. "We need effective instruments to make politicians accountable to voters."

Yushchenko also called for unity. "Political views may differ ... but the state is one for all," said Yushchenko, who attended the church prayers with his wife, Katerina, and their three children, who were wearing national costumes.

Ukrainian lawmakers declared independence on Aug. 24, 1991, days after a hard-line Communist coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev failed. More than 90 percent of Ukrainians approved the decision in a referendum that December, when the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist.

In the decade that followed, the country saw rampant corruption and stagnant economic growth as it struggled to make the transition to a market economy.

In 2004, the country saw its most tumultuous post-Soviet period when Yushchenko faced off with Yanukovych in presidential elections. Fraud-tainted balloting led to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians pouring into Kiev's streets in what came to be known as the Orange Revolution, and Yushchenko ultimately won the presidency.

Many Ukrainians, however, have been disappointed with the persistently slow pace of reforms, widespread poverty and corruption, and political infighting. The Sept. 30 elections will be the fourth time in less than three years that Ukrainians vote in a national election.

"Independence is good, but living well is also good," said Galina Kovalenko, a 52-year-old former military servicewoman who skipped Friday's celebrations. "Maybe one day we'll live like they do in Europe." Reuters, AP