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November 29, 2004

Nation's 'Joan of Arc' all fired up

Topics: International News

Reported in The Australian, Kiev, November 30, 2004

THEY used to call her the "gas princess", but the swarms of protesters on Kiev's Independence Square now refer to Yuliya Timoshenko as Ukraine's Joan of Arc. With her rousing speeches, slim figure, peasant braid and glamorous good looks she has inflamed and sustained huge demonstrations in support of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko. While Mr Yushchenko has called for a new vote on December 12 and met his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, to try to resolve the crisis, Ms Timoshenko, who turned 44 on Saturday, has repeatedly called for the people to seize power by blockading state buildings and taking over airports, railways and roads.

She urged tens of thousands of supporters to surround the Supreme Court overnight, Australian time, when it was to hear claims from the opposition that the election had been unfair. "We will go to the Supreme Court not to pressure it, but to support honest judges," she said. And if the Supreme Court does not back the opposition, Ms Timoshenko will be the one orchestrating the reaction of the crowds.

"She is Yushchenko's pit bull -- she says things he can't and keeps the pressure on the Government while making him look like the reasonable statesman who you can negotiate with," said Markian Bilynskyj, vice-president of the US-Ukraine Foundation and an expert on Ukrainian politics.

Most of Ukraine's ruling elite are Soviet-trained bureaucrats. Like many of them, including the Prime Minister and his opponent, Ms Timoshenko hails from the Russian-speaking east of the country.

She was barely out of university then, but she took advantage of the new spirit of 1980s openness by setting up a business renting out films to cinemas with her father-in-law. Her talents as a businesswoman soon earned her a place among the new post-Soviet elite and between 1995 and 1997 she headed Unified Energy Systems.

In March 1998, she was elected to parliament and served as deputy prime minister in Mr Yushchenko's reformist government from December 1999 to January 2001.

But when she took on the task of cleaning up the country's corrupt energy sector, her relationship with President Leonid Kuchma soured. He accused her of exceeding her power and fired her from the Government in 2001. He also sacked Mr Yushchenko in April of that year. Not long afterwards, prosecutors began to investigate Ms Timoshenko for allegedly smuggling fuel.

She was even detained and thrown in jail for a month, sparking demonstrations by her supporters. Prosecutors accused her, her husband, her father-in-law and an accountant of illegally acquiring $US2.25billion ($2.86billion) through corrupt natural-gas deals and financial schemes.

She and her husband, Oleksander, were acquitted but prosecutors are still charging her father-in-law, Henadiy.

The episode left her bitter. Ms Timoshenko set up her own party and became one of Mr Kuchma's most prominent critics. This year, she joined Mr Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc to form the People's Power coalition, which she co-chairs. If Mr Yushchenko does take over as president, Ms Timoshenko would be a popular choice to become prime minister.  Source...

Posted by Hyscience at November 29, 2004 12:43 PM

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