(AP) - President Viktor Yushchenko on Tuesday accused his former prime minister of abuse of office, saying he fired her as a "matter of honour" because she abandoned the ideals of last year's Orange Revolution that rallied Ukraine.

"It was not the ideals of Independence Square - it was backstage intrigues," Yushchenko told The Associated Press in an interview five days after he dismissed Yulia Tymoshenko and her cabinet.

He levelled sharp allegations at his one-time comrade-in-arms, accusing the popular politician of trying to use her post to wipe out $1.5 billion in debts owed by a defunct energy company she once headed. But Yushchenko said he would welcome Tymoshenko back to the government if she were to return to the principles they had shared.

"It was a case of my honour not to use Ukraine's budget ... privatization ... official power to solve private problems," Yushchenko said.

He alleged that in addition to trying to have Unified Energy System's debts to the state written off, Tymoshenko also tried to cancel its debts to Russia. The company, Ukraine's predominant gas dealer, was run by Tymoshenko, her husband and her father-in-law in the 1990s.

"The behaviour that Yulia Volodymyrovna demonstrated in government, and the circle of her allies, were formed on a basis contrary to state interests," Yushchenko said, using Tymoshenko's patronymic, a formal form of address.

"Many activities which the prime minister participated in were carried out behind the scenes with the aim of solving her problems," he said.

Yushchenko reiterated his previous allegation that Tymoshenko had acted in favour of certain business interests, particularly in connection with the government's widely criticized re-privatization practice. Later Tuesday, Yushchenko said in a major reversal of Tymoshenko's policy that he was putting an end to re-privatizations, adding that "private property is untouchable."

Yushchenko told the AP he was completely at peace with his decision to fire Tymoshenko's government.

"It's the fourth day that I'm coming to work with a calm spirit," he said.

Yushchenko acknowledged that his own popularity was slipping, and he blamed the high expectations of Ukrainians.

"It's because what the people expected is far from fulfilled," he said, adding that the new government had to be pragmatic and not populist.

Tymoshenko, in a brief phone interview with the AP, called Yushchenko's allegations a shock, saying he was trying to revive the "old repression that (former President Leonid) Kuchma had used against me and my family."
Tymoshenko told the AP that courts had long ago ruled that all the debt and fines levied against her former energy company were illegal, and she accused Yushchenko of "picking up Kuchma's baton and wanting to get rid of me in the same way."

For many Ukrainians, Tymoshenko symbolized their revolution, a charismatic orator with charm and appealing ethnic symbolism. She rallied hundreds of thousands who massed in Kyiv to denounce fraud by the former government in the presidential election and force a new vote, which Yushchenko won.

She has said the president fired her because he feared her popularity.


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