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‘Banker’ could bring Ukraine reform as PM

by Dario Thuburn

AFP-JIJI

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s opposition leader who on Saturday was offered the prime minister’s job, is a bespectacled former lawyer who has taken a hands-on role in the escalating protests.

The 39-year-old Yatsenyuk did not immediately respond to the presidential offer, although he did not turn it down in a speech to protesters in which he vowed to continue pressing for opposition demands.

Not previously seen as a tough politician, Yatsenyuk has taken an increasingly stubborn line in fiery speeches on Independence Square, the epicenter of the protest movement.

The Focus newsweekly said he has been trying to shed his image of an “intellectual banker” and has been using the square to stage a sort of “primary” for the role of chief opposition leader.

In one impassioned address this month, he gave President Viktor Yanukovych an ultimatum to solve the crisis and said he was ready to die for the cause.

“If he does not go down that path, then we will go forward together, and if it means a bullet to the head, then it is a bullet to the head,” he said.

While Yatsenyuk has earned the respect of some protesters, his support is far from certain among the most militant activists.

He is also seen by some as a rival as much as ally of fellow opposition leader and world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who enjoys greater popularity among potential voters.

Yatsenyuk’s political views are broadly liberal and he is in favor of European Union membership for Ukraine. He has called for reforms to root out deep-seated corruption in the country.

If he accepts the nomination and it is approved by parliament, Yatsenyuk would become one of Europe’s youngest government chiefs, although his authority would be severely limited because of the sweeping powers currently held by the presidency.

That, too, could change, however, as one of the concessions held out by Yanukovych on Saturday was a discussion on possible constitutional changes that will boost the role of the prime minister.

Originally from Chernivtsi in western Ukraine, a major stronghold for the opposition, Yatsenyuk began his political career in 2001 as economy minister of the pro-Russia Crimean Peninsula.

Following the Orange Revolution in 2004, Yatsenyuk began pushing a more pro-Western agenda and became a close ally of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is now in prison for abuse of power.

President Viktor Yushchenko appointed him foreign minister in 2007, and Yatsenyuk became a compromise figure when a personal conflict between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko began to spiral out of control.

Unusually for government officials in post-Soviet countries, Yatsenyuk traveled on regular passenger flights while he was foreign minister.

Yatsenyuk and Tymoshenko later had a bitter falling out, although they have since reconciled and he is the leader of the Fatherland party, of which she was also a founder.

Fatherland is Ukraine’s second-biggest party, after the ruling Party of Regions.

Yatsenyuk is a member of Ukraine’s parliament and was once its speaker.

Running for president in 2010, he finished in fourth place with only 7 percent of the vote and accused Tymoshenko of being in cahoots with the winner.

He declined an offer to head Yanukovych’s government, instead joining ranks with Tymoshenko’s supporters in 2012 and merging his party with hers.

Yatsenyuk was born in May 1974 into a family of professors at Chernivtsi University. Between 1992 and 1997 he was president of a law firm, and later worked at Aval Bank in Kiev. He is married and has two daughters.