Ukraine moves to grant more power to regions

A woman (C) looks at portraits of people killed in recent clashes on a tent in the 'Euromaidan' protest camp at the Independence Square in Kiev, April 1, 2014. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

KIEV: Crisis-hit Ukraine took the first step Wednesday toward granting more powers to the regions in line with Western wishes but stopped well short of creating the federation sought by Russia.

The announcement came as Russia continued to mass tens thousands of troops along Ukraine's eastern border following a vow by President Vladimir Putin to use "any means necessary" to protect the interest of his compatriots in the neighbouring ex-Soviet state.

Ukraine's new Western-backed government said it would like to eliminate the current practise under which local governors are appointed by the president and move toward an election system.

"The main idea behind the concept is to decentralise power in the country and substantially broaden the authority of local communities," the government said in a statement published on its website.

The interim leaders in Kiev have come under intense pressure from Moscow to adopt radical constitutional reforms in the wake of their February overthrow of a pro-Kremlin regime whose rejection of closer ties with Europe sparked months of deadly unrest.

The Kremlin would like to see Ukraine transformed into a federation that allows eastern regions in the vast nation of 46 million to adopt Russian as a second state language and establish their own trade policies with Moscow.

Putin has argued that the changes were necessary because ethnic Russians had allegedly been coming under increasing attack from ultranationalist forces that helped the new leaders overthrow Kiev's Moscow-backed president.

But Washington and its EU allies fear that Russia -- having already annexed Crimea last month -- is using the federation idea as an excuse to further splinter Ukraine by granting the Kremlin veto powers over Kiev's regional policies.

US officials have instead urged Ukraine's new leaders to introduce more targeted reforms that undercut Putin's arguments for sending troops into the heavily Russified swathes of southeastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government's statement follows closely in line with US wishes by stressing that a system under which regional governors are appointed by local legislatures would be more efficient.

"We would like to see the executive... at the regional and district levels formed through an election process," the government statement quoted Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman as saying.





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