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Ukraine President to Attend NATO Summit Amid Political Crisis


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma plans to attend this week's NATO summit in Prague, despite a deepening political crisis at home and being told by alliance officials that he will not be welcome. Mr. Kuchma sacked his government just before leaving for Moscow and Beijing.

The presidential decree sacking the government of Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh must still be approved by Ukraine's Parliament, the Rada, where it is expected to face strong opposition.

While a date for the vote has not been set, it is widely expected that the mainly pro-presidential coalition of lawmakers will try to push through the order sometime this week in a bid to shore up President Kuchma's leadership.

Mr. Kuchma has nominated Viktor Yanukovich, a tough regional governor from Ukraine's coal-producing Donetsk region, to replace Mr. Kinakh, whom he reportedly blames for causing a budgetary crisis.

Some analysts have already said that Mr. Yanukovich's hard line rule in Donetsk does not bode well for those hoping to see Ukraine's closer integration into Europe.

The Our Ukraine faction of popular opposition politician Viktor Yushchenko has criticized the presidential decree, saying it creates a government crisis in a nation struggling with a parliamentary crisis.

Political tensions in Ukraine have been on the rise since parliamentary elections in March gave Mr. Yushchenko and other opposition leaders most of the popular vote, but not outright control of parliament.

Ukraine's political opposition accuses President Kuchma of corruption, abuse of power and involvement in the killing of an investigative journalist.

The president, who denies the allegations, has weathered months of protests.

In September, tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Ukraine in the country's largest demonstrations since gaining independence from the Soviet Union 11 years ago.

Mr. Kuchma's political pressures deepened, following U.S. allegations he approved the sale of an early warning radar system to Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions. More than $50 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine has since been held up.

A NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur said alliance officials think it "unwise" for President Kuchma to attend the Prague NATO Summit, given the allegations.

But Ukraine's Security Council responded in favor of sending Mr. Kuchma to Prague, along with the country's outgoing foreign minister.

Alliance officials have not commented on what effect, if any, they expect the proposed government changes in Ukraine to have on the summit, or on NATO-Ukraine relations.

U.S. officials had been urging Ukraine's foreign minister to come to Prague to sign a long-term plan that would pave the way for Ukraine to join the alliance in time.

President Kuchma is in Beijing after a brief stopover in Moscow, where he held talks with President Putin. In Beijing, Mr. Kuchma is expected to focus on boosting bilateral cooperation when he meets Chinese leaders, as well discussing regional security and the global fight against terrorism.

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