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House ousts Ukraine govt over gas deal

Kiev, Jan. 10 (Reuters): Ukraine’s parliament voted today to sack the government over a controversial gas deal with Russia, plunging the country into a crisis just two months ahead of a parliamentary poll.

A no-confidence motion was backed by 250 deputies in the 450-seat parliament, angry over the deal that will force Ukraine to pay nearly twice as much for its gas imports this year.

President Viktor Yushchenko, on a trip to Kazakhstan, said he believed the vote to oust his government was unconstitutional. His lawyers in Kiev said it was binding.

Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov, who will remain as acting premier until Yushchenko names a replacement, said he would do everything he could to prevent any impact on the gas deal with Russia which followed acrimonious negotiations.

Moscow cut off gas to Ukraine for two days at the start of the year, also hitting supplies to customers in the West.

The vote is the latest blow to Yushchenko who came to power on the back of popular protests but who has spent his first year in office battling poor economic growth and corruption scandals.

And it comes ahead of a parliamentary election in March when his supporters will struggle to beat off a challenge by the Opposition.

“This is an attempt by political Opposition in Ukraine to seize political initiative from President Yushchenko’s camp ahead of the March election,” said CSFB economist Sergei Voloboev.

Officials said a new government could emerge only after the poll. “The absurdness of the situation is that neither the President nor parliament will be able to form a new government until a new parliament is elected,” justice minister Serhiy Golovaty said after the vote.

He said the parliamentary vote was binding.

Mykola Poludenny, the presidential legal adviser, was quoted by Ukrainska Pravda web site as saying the vote was legal and parliament had enough powers to sack the government. Yekhanurov is seen as a long-term ally of the President.

A main driving force behind the no-confidence vote was former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, sacked by Yushchenko last September after the partnership that swept them to power in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution turned sour.

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