Vol. 5 Num 215 Fri. December 31, 2004  

Plot thickens after mysterious death of Ukraine minister

The mysterious suspected suicide of Ukraine's powerful transport minister has sparked rumours of bloody infighting within the crumbling outgoing regime after weeks of election turmoil.

The Kiev press, almost forgetting the historic election win of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, has devoted pages to the death of Heorhiy Kirpa, who was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head Monday evening at his home.

"Has the season of deaths within the devastated elite begun?" asked the oligarch-owned Segodnia daily after the second unexplained death of a government-connected figure in recent weeks.

"Suicide, mopping-up, vengeance?" the opposition Vecherniye Vesti's banner headline said. Another pro-Yushchenko daily, the Kiev Gazeta, affirmed that "ministers don't die for love."

During the funeral service on Wednesday, outgoing President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the unlucky presidential contender, sneaked in through a side-door to dodge journalists' questions.

Ukraine's prosecutor general's office said Tuesday it had opened a criminal inquiry into "forced suicide" although not ruling out "other hypotheses," as some media suggested it was a case of murder.

Kirpa, 58, was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head in his residence outside Kiev, a Makarov pistol lying near his body.

According to the opposition, his ministry provided money and other support for the campaign of Yanukovich, whose contested victory in the November 21 presidential poll was annulled by the supreme court because of huge fraud.

He was accused too of blocking rail travel of pro-Yushchenko supporters during the campaign and giving free transport to Yanukovich partisans to allow them to cast multiple votes in different cities in the falsified election.

Also minister for communications, Kirpa is seen as likely to have been privy to a break-in to the central election commission server as vote results poured in during the November poll.

But the opposition's so-called "orange revolution" in which it mounted 17 days of mass street protests against Yanukovich's win, appeared to have changed the minister's stance, like that of Kuchma himself.