Kiev mayor ex-boxer Klitschko accuses Zelensky of move to curb powers

Vitali Klitschko is a former world heavyweight boxing champion and has been the elected mayor of Kiev since 2014 (AFP Photo/Sergei SUPINSKY)

Kiev (AFP) - Former boxing champion and mayor of Ukraine's capital Kiev, Vitali Klitschko on Wednesday lashed out at President Volodymyr Zelensky, accusing his government of an illegal attempt to curb his powers.

Klitschko is a former world heavyweight champion, as is his younger brother Wladimir Klitschko. He has served as elected mayor of Kiev since 2014.

The high-profile official is an ally of former president Petro Poroshenko, who took power after the ouster of a Russian-backed president.

Zelensky, who was a popular comedian before being elected head of state in the spring, controls a majority in Ukraine's parliament and Klitschko's removal could pave the way for him to put an ally in charge of Kiev.

In July Zelensky called for Klitschko to lose some of his powers and his new prime minister on Wednesday accused the mayor of failing to root out corruption.

"I have no doubt that the practice of corruption has not been stopped in Kiev," Prime Minister Oleksiy Goncharuk, in office since last week, told journalists.

On Wednesday, Zelensky's new cabinet formally called for Klitschko's dismissal as head of the executive branch of the city hall, although this would not end his role as mayor, with the next elections set for next year.

The final decision whether to dismiss Klitschko from the administrative post must be made by Zelensky, who has not yet commented.

Klitschko immediately denied accusations of corruption and called the new government's moves illegal.

At a news conference, he accused Zelensky's government of an attempt "to eliminate Klitschko and appoint a person who was not chosen by Kiev residents."

According to the law, Kiev's elected mayor must also carry out the administrative role, he said, accusing Zelensky of wanting to establish "direct presidential rule" in the capital.

"Klitschko can be fired only by the people of Kiev, who elected him the mayor of Kiev," he said.

A sporting legend with pro-European views, Klitschko has made significant efforts to renovate public places and infrastructure in the city of three million.

But critics accuse him of turning a blind eye to the controversial activity of developers building huge malls and luxury apartment blocks in the city.