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Update: Ukraine's parliament dismisses interior minister

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Jan. 28, 2010, 1:06 p.m. | Ukraine — by Reuters

Reuters

Ukraine's parliament on Jan. 27dismissed the interior minister, a close ally of presidential candidate Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko hit back, saying the minister, Yuri Lutsenko, would continue to head the ministry as its first deputy minister, according to agencies.

The motion to sack Lutsenko was initiated by the Regions Party of Victor Yanukovych, who faces Tymoshenko in a Feb. 7 runoff vote for the presidency.

The motion, at a special session of the 450-seat parliament, was narrowly passed by 231 votes.

The Regions Party has accused the interior ministry of not adhering to court decisions and most recently failing to act when a printing press producing ballot papers for the February election was attacked.

Its officials have said Tymoshenko, as prime minister, has the resources to influence voters and they can now say the loss of Lutsenko in his key role of interior minister has weakened her chances of doing this.

Tymoshenko appeared to move to maintain her hold on the ministry.

"Today at a government meeting, Lutsenko will be named the first deputy, the acting head and he will head the interior ministry," she was quoted by local agencies as saying on a campaign trip out of Kiev.

One analyst said the decision in parliament would not only be a blow to Tymoshenko's campaign for the president's post but also may safeguard an election result from future challenge.

"This means the Regions party has succeeded in weakening its rival in a significant part of the election process," said Volodymyr Fesenko, director of he PENTA think tank. "The acting head of the interior ministry will maintain neutrality. This will all increase the chances of Yanukovych from the point of view of defending the result of the election and its legitimacy after voting.

The opposition in parliament has tried to sack Lutsenko several times, most recently last year after German police said they had detained him at a Frankfurt airport for drunk and disorderly behaviour.
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