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New Ukrainian Prime Minister Seen Loyal to President

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A new parliamentary coalition in Ukraine has approved a prime minister considered loyal to recently inaugurated President Viktor Yanukovych.  But the ousted prime minister says the new government is illegitimate. 

Former finance minister Mykola Azarov, a close associate of Viktor Yanukovych, received a large bouquet of roses from the president after the parliament, the Supreme Rada, approved his appointment as prime minister.  

Two hundred forty two lawmakers in the 450-seat Rada voted in Mr. Azarov's favor.  

Speaking just before the mid-day vote, Mr. Azarov said the country has been plundered, the state treasury is empty, economic decline continues, and the national debt has increased threefold.  The situation, he says, requires a realistic 2010 budget.

Mr. Azarov says Ukraine has reached a critical limit and the situation must be changed.  He adds that the government's task is to give the people responsible, effective and just leadership.

The new prime minister moved to Ukraine from Russia in the mid 1980s and is often criticized for poor command of the Ukrainian language.  But he has served as first deputy prime minister and finance minister and is considered to be an experienced economic manager.

The new coalition was made possible by a vote in parliament Tuesday to amend the constitution to allow lawmakers to ignore party affiliation and to join a coalition as independents.  

Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko said Wednesday the move has not only rendered the constitution worthless, but that any coalition or government formed on such a basis would have no legitimate authority.  

Responding to Mr. Azarov's implied criticism of her government, she said she passes along a worthy economy.  She also recognized the suffering of ordinary Ukrainians as a result of the global economic crisis.

Ms. Tymoshenko says no one could hide from the crisis, not society, not banks, nor businesses or any individual.   She admits to hands-on control of all economic processes during her tenure, saying it was simply impossible to maintain the country any other way.

Mr. Azarov says he would welcome a meeting with his predecessor to discuss cooperation with the opposition, which Ms. Tymoshenko now enters.  Her tenure as prime minister was characterized by frequent infighting with former president Viktor Yushchenko.

The new majority in the Rada has been named the Stability and Reforms faction.  It includes 172 members of President Yanukovych's Regions Party, 27 communists, 20 members of speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn's party, and 12 lawmakers from parties loyal to Ms. Tymoshenko or former President Yushchenko.

The Foreign Ministry in the new government will once again be headed by Kostyantin Hryshchenko, Ukraine's current envoy to Russia and former ambassador to the United States.  He is a professional diplomat and is considered pro-Western.  

The Education Minister will be Dmytro Tabachnyk, a controversial pro-Russian lawmaker whose appointment was reported eliciting a gasp of disbelief among his detractors in Parliament.  In September, Tabachnyk was widely criticized for his article in Russia's Izvestia newspaper that described the Soviet decision to unite western and eastern Ukraine during World War II as a time bomb that brought together peoples with almost nothing in common in terms of mentality, religion, language or politics.  

President Yanukovych drew criticism in Russia this week after announcing he would not promote Russian as a second state language in Ukraine.  

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