KIEV – Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko held crisis talks with his prime minister on Tuesday in a scramble to repair damage after his chief of staff suddenly quit, accusing top officials of corruption. Yushchenko – brought to power in last year's 'Orange Revolution' with a pledge to rid Ukraine of corruption – met Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other officials to try to avert a full-blown political crisis after Oleksander Zinchenko's resignation.
'A meeting of the country's leadership is taking place in the presidential headquarters at the moment. It will be followed by the meeting of the National Defence and Security Council,' a presidential spokeswoman told privately owned Fifth TV channel.
Yushchenko cancelled a visit to Poland where he planned to take part in an economic forum later this week.
Zinchenko resigned on Saturday to protest at what he said was rising official corruption in the new government, which faces a parliamentary election in March.
He accused officials close to Yushchenko of trying to repeat the worst practices of the previous government.
He demanded the resignations of Petro Poroshenko, the secretary of the National Defence and Security Council, and Oleksander Tretyakov, first aide to the president.
'This declaration hurt President Yushchenko's position a lot and shows there are serious contradictions in the team and a tough fight is under way,' said Valery Konovalyuk, an opposition parliamentary deputy.
Poroshenko denied all accusations of corruption, and said Zinchenko had failed to present any proof.
Yushchenko rose to power on the back of mass street protests against fraud in an election he said he had won, and on promises to stamp out corruption.
Since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has persistently been rated as one of the world's most corrupt countries by international anti-graft bodies.
When pro-Western liberal Yushchenko came to power, many hoped for a fresh start.
But so far his team has had more failures than successes with economic growth slowing, inflation rising and investors remaining on the sidelines. Frequent public rows on policy have become a hallmark of the young government.
The resignation of Zinchenko, who headed Yushchenko's election campaign in 2004, is a particularly heavy blow and a major test for the president, top politicians said.
'It is the first serious test for President Viktor Yushchenko's team. The answer should be fast, honest and convincing,' Defence Minister Anatoly Gritsenko was quoted by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency as saying.
'Corruption accusations against top officials of the new team are very serious questions. They cannot be left unnoticed because they damage society's trust in the authorities and have a negative impact on Ukraine's international image.'
The president appointed Ivan Vasyunyk, his aide for many years and a deputy to Zinchenko, as acting chief of staff.