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Ukraine's Parliament Votes to Dismiss Cabinet Over Gas Deal With Russia

Ukraine's parliament, or Rada, has voted to dismiss the cabinet because of a deal on natural gas prices reached with Russia last week that nearly doubles the price Ukraine pays for the fuel. However, top cabinet ministers say the measure has no legal authority.

Lawmakers in the Rada voted overwhelmingly to dismiss the cabinet Tuesday after several hours of heated debate about last week's controversial gas deal with Russia.

Opposition parties sharply criticized the government for making an agreement that almost doubles the amount Ukraine must pay for its natural gas.

However, Prime Minister Yury Yekhanurov says the Rada has no right to dismiss the cabinet, which he insists will continue working despite the dismissal measure, which passed on a vote of 250 to 50.

Justice Minister Serhiy Holovaty says a new cabinet can only be formed after new elections on the basis of a new parliamentary coalition, and thus the vote has no legal basis.

Opposition deputy Nestor Shufrych acknowledged this, but told reporters the vote would still deprive the cabinet of "the opportunity to make decisions."

Political tensions are rising in Ukraine in the run-up to parliamentary elections in March.

The election may substantially weaken supporters of President Viktor Yushchenko, who came to power just over a year during the so-called "Orange Revolution."

Under a political deal made at the time, the power to appoint the cabinet is due to pass from the president to parliament, which Prime Minister Yekhanurov argues will happen only after the March election.

But opposition deputy Vaily Gureyev disagrees.

He says that constitutional reforms were passed, and the country can not afford to be without a government until the election.

Opposition politicians say the gas deal harms industries as well as consumers in Ukraine, and was too much of a concession to Russia, which had wanted to quadruple gas prices.

When negotiations broke down, Russia's giant energy company Gazprom cut off gas supplies on New Year's Day.

The company reversed course the next day, however, after countries all across Europe complained that the gas cut off affected them as well.

About 25 percent of Europe's gas is imported from Russia, and almost all of it comes through pipelines that cross Ukraine.

Analysts say Russia responded quickly after some European leaders openly questioned Moscow's reliability as an energy supplier.

The so-called "gas war" ended with a complex agreement in which Ukraine will pay $95 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, almost double the current $50. Russia had been demanding a four fold increase.

Prime Minister Yekhanurov says the agreement was a compromise necessary in order to guarantee that Ukraine has a sufficient supply of gas.