Political novice Honcharuk appointed Ukraine PM, to focus on economy


FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivers a speech during a ceremony to celebrate Ukraine's Independence Day, in Kiev, Ukraine August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

KIEV (Reuters) - Political novice and presidential protege Oleksiy Honcharuk was appointed as Ukraine's prime minister on Thursday and said economic reforms aimed at accelerating growth would be the focus of his premiership.

Lawmakers reconvening after a national election in July ratified the 35-year-old lawyer's nomination, presented earlier in the day by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. He had warned the legislature that it risked being dissolved if it dragged its feet over reforms.

Deputies also appointed lawyer and activist Andriy Zahorodnyuk as defence minister.

Honcharuk became a deputy head of Zelenskiy's office in May, having previously led a non-governmental organisation focused on economic reform and worked as an adviser to the Ecology Ministry. He ran for parliament in 2014 but did not get elected.

"This government is facing the task of accelerating economic growth," Honcharuk told lawmakers.

"We need to grow, but to grow not by 2-3%, but minimum by 5-7%," he said, adding that speed and successful economic reforms would be the focus of his cabinet.

Later on Thursday, the parliament voted for a new government in which Finance Minister Oksana Markarova retained her post.

Since 2015, Markarova worked as deputy finance minister and last year she took the post of minister and negotiator with the International Monetary Fund.

Honcharuk said that Ukraine would continue to cooperate with the IMF and start talks over a new programme - which would replace an existing $3.9 billion standby deal - in a few weeks.

The IMF helped the economy recover from a sharp recession and currency crash following the outbreak of hostilities between the government and pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Separately, two senior administration officials said the White House was reviewing whether $250 million in military assistance should be sent to Ukraine in keeping with U.S. President Donald Trump's view that foreign aid must be justified.

The money is intended for use by Ukraine in its struggle with pro-Russian separatists backed by Moscow.

'DO NOT ENGAGE IN POPULISM'

Zelenskiy, a comedian-turned-politician, became president in April in a landslide election win that transformed Ukraine's political landscape.

His party, Servant of the People, won 254 of 450 seats in parliamentary elections in July, the first time a ruling president's party has won an absolute majority in the legislature and the right to independently form a government.

On Thursday he cautioned lawmakers that he could dissolve the chamber if he saw no progress.

"I'm very glad that we have a parliament that is really ready to work," he told the parliament.

"(But) do not engage in populism, and not overwhelm important decisions with thousands of meaningless amendments, but implement the real reforms that the citizens of Ukraine and the entire civilized world are tired of waiting for."

Volodymyr Fesenko, an analyst with Kiev-based think tank Penta, called Zelenskiy's government "the most liberal ... in the history of Ukraine," adding that reforms were expected to intensify.

Zelenskiy nominated former Ukrainian ambassador to NATO Vadym Prystaiko as foreign minister.

Late on Thursday, supporting Zelenskiy's suggestions, parliament also appointed Ivan Bakanov as head of Security Service (SBU) and Ruslan Ryaboshapka as prosecutor general.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets; Editing by Toby Chopra, John Stonestreet and Lisa Shumaker)


   

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