Saturday, September 08, 2007

Rotten pickle threat forces Ukraine premier to cancel campaign tour

Kiev - The threat of being on camera alongside jars of rotten pickles forced the cancellation of a campaign swing by Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich through a provincial region, Korrespondent magazine reported on Friday. A politician in favour of government support for big business and closer Ukrainian relations with Russia, Yanukovich had been scheduled to visit the western Lviv province as part of his government's campaign to improve regional support, prior to national elections on September 30.
Yanukovich had been planning to announce the award of some 320 thousand dollars in government aid to villagers in the Ozhidov district to assist with recovery from a July train wreck which caused a phosphorus spill and the evacuation of hundreds of local residents.
Anti-government activists in Ozhidov's town square stymied the visit by setting up stands containing jars of rotten pickles, tomatoes, cabbage and squash to protest the Yanukovich government's alleged failure to respond to the accident seriously.
Pickled home-grown vegetables are a popular Ukrainian food product found in practically every household.
A statement from Yanukovich's press office claimed the prime minister was unable to attend the ceremony in Ozhidov due to heavy traffic on the Kiev-Lviv highway - one of the country's best- maintained and fastest-travelling roads. Motorists told the ICTV television channel traffic was if anything light.
Phosphorus is a hazardous chemical that ignites on contact with air. An estimated 40 square kilometres of ground in the Ozhidov district was polluted by the July 17 spill, and toxic smoke clouds caused by the fire.
Yanukovich on Thursday instructed the country's Minister of Transport Mykola Rudolkovsky to remain at his post despite orders sacking him issued earlier this week by President Viktor Yushchenko, Yanukovich's rival.
Yushchenko cited the phosphorus spill and frequent accidents on the national railroad, which Rudolkovsky's officer runs, as grounds for his dismissal sacking.
Yanukovich on Thursday argued Rudolkovsky has in fact done his job well, and that Yushchenko's attempt to sack him was politically- motivated.
Yanukovich has been the victim of political fall from food products in the past, particularly during Ukraine's 2004 Presidential election when, during a campaign swing through the Ivano-Frankivsk province, a student threw an egg at the Prime Minister, striking him in the shoulder.
Television images of the burly Yanukovich dropping to the ground as if poleaxed when hit by the egg, and later that day from a hospital room claiming he had been a victim of a terrorist attack, undermined his image as a tough politician able to handle crisis.
Yanukovich initially won the October 2004 election, but the supreme court overturned the result in a December finding, accusing his campaign organization of massive vote fraud.
Yanukovich's Regions Ukraine party is set to grab some 22 per cent of the popular vote in the September elections, making it likely the strongest party in the next parliament, according to most polls.

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