Ukraine could sack up to million officials with ties to Russian past

Dmitry Zaks
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The "lustration law" approved Thursday by Ukraine's president was a rallying cry of the protests that convulsed Kiev last winter

The "lustration law" approved Thursday by Ukraine's president was a rallying cry of the protests that convulsed Kiev last winter (AFP Photo/Genya Savilov)

Kiev (AFP) - Ukraine's president approved a disputed anti-graft measure on Thursday that could see up to a million civil servants with alleged links to past Soviet or pro-Russian governments immediately sacked.

The so-called "lustration law" follows the example of other eastern European nations that broke free of decades of Moscow's domination at the end of the Cold War.

It was also a rallying cry of the protests that convulsed Kiev last winter and led to the ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych and a secretive band of Ukrainian tycoons.

The law removes anyone who held a federal or regional government position for more than a year under Yanukovych, who is now in self-imposed exile in Russia.

It also sets up a special commission to investigate judges and law enforcement agents suspected of living lavish lifestyles on humble government wages.

Another provision prevents anyone unable to explain their sources of income or assets from holding office for five to 10 years.

Lawmakers' initial failure to adopt the legislation last month sparked violent protests outside parliament that engulfed the building in the black smoke of burning tyres and brought riot police out on the streets.

The bill itself says it was drafted to help "restore trust in the authorities and create a new system of government that corresponds to European standards".

"This is a historic day for Ukraine," President Petro Poroshenko posted on his Facebook account.

"The state machine will be cleansed. Glory to Ukraine!"

- Way to settle scores? -

But the legislation has been bitterly fought by lawmakers representing Russian-speaking eastern regions -- the powerbase of the former regime and now partially controlled by separatist rebels.

Its legality has also been questioned by the Council of Europe and business leaders who fear it will lead to a damaging exodus of competent bureaucrats.

Even the president's own special representative on children's issues complained that it "violates basic rights and freedoms of citizens, is anti-constitutional and does not correspond to European judicial procedures or standards."

"It provides a way to settle scores with your (political) opponents," children's ombudsman Yuriy Pavlenko wrote on his Facebook account.

Other clauses in the law bar anyone found guilty of backing separatist causes and anyone who worked as a prosecutor or held a top office when state agents shot dead nearly 100 protesters during the Kiev unrest.

The commission can additionally probe civil servants' links to the Soviet-era secret service and Communist Party.

The measures have already prompted the resignation of two top finance and economy ministry officials who are respected by the business community but were hired during Yanukovych's 2010-2014 presidency.

A succession of recent governments have been riven by squabbles and business clan rivalries that stalled the adoption of crucial economic restructuring measures and left the country nearly bankrupt and dependent on foreign help.

Yanukovych and his allies were accused of persecuting their predecessors and jailing former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko for political reasons.

Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko -- his post-Soviet group facing a nationwide ban in court -- said the law "subjects almost any civil servant to repression".