Ukraine leader lays out vision of new war-time constitution

 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday proposed constitutional changes designed to give broader powers to the regions, but failed to address the demands of pro-Russian fighters in the separatist east.

AFP| Updated: Jul 01, 2015, 21:21 PM IST

Kiev: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday proposed constitutional changes designed to give broader powers to the regions, but failed to address the demands of pro-Russian fighters in the separatist east.

Poroshenko`s new vision of the ex-Soviet state`s basic law would trim presidential power over the provinces and extend to local towns and councils the right to oversee how their tax revenues are spent.

But it also refuses to add to the constitution the semi-autonomous status demanded by insurgency leaders who control an industrial edge of Ukraine that is home to 3.5 million people and accounts for a tenth of its economic output.

The westward-leading leader -- elected in the wake of the February 2014 ouster of Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych -- said the amendments would decentralise power but never turn Ukraine into a loose "federation" that Moscow has sought.

"Decentralisation would bring our political system closer to that of Europe," Poroshenko said in a nationally televised address.

He argued the changes -- still to be approved by parliament -- would hand the regions "a vast amount of rights and financial resources that today are overseen by the president and the government."

"Decentralisation safeguards us from authoritarianism and dictatorship," said the 49-year-old former business baron.

"Decentralisation will be our civilised distinction from our neighbours in the Soviet camp," he added in apparent reference to Russia and Belarus.

Militia-controlled parts of the mostly Russian-speaking Lugansk and Donetsk regions would like to see their semi-autonomous status spelled out in clearly-defined constitutional amendments that would be enormously difficult to reverse.

But Poroshenko`s draft -- due to be submitted to parliament later on Wednesday -- only makes reference to an existing piece of legislation that gives the separatists partial self-rule for an interim period of three years.

The rebels fear that the law could be revoked or suspended by a strongly pro-European parliament.

There was no immediate reaction from either Moscow or the separatist east of Ukraine to Poroshenko`s address.

Kiev`s Western allies have long pushed Poroshenko to limit the power in the hands of central authorities.

Washington believes regional rights would make politics more transparent and help break the corrupt bonds forged in the past two decades between billionaire tycoons and decision-makers.

But Moscow has argued that only a "federalised" Ukraine in which regions form their own diplomatic and trade relations with other nations can finally end a bloody insurgency that has claimed 6,500 lives in 15 months.