KIEV, Ukraine, Dec. 8 -- Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, vowing to restore "the letter and the spirit of the law," said Wednesday that if he was elected president, his government would prosecute select political and economic crimes that have been linked to the administration of President Leonid Kuchma, including the killing of a journalist.
In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday, the day parliament passed electoral reforms in advance of a second presidential runoff, Yushchenko said he would pursue an independent foreign policy and make winning Ukraine's admittance to the European Union his top priority. He said he wanted to ease the tensions that arose during the election campaign and the chaotic aftermath of the tainted Nov. 21 runoff.
Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, seated, talks to members of parliament after a vote on changes to the powers of presidency.
Photo Gallery: The parliament passed electoral and constitutional reforms, leading to celebrations by members of the opposition.
Graphic: A look at the East-West split that seems to be dividing the country politically.
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Yushchenko said that while he was not interested in a far-reaching legal examination of the past, "there will be accountability" for certain acts. He mentioned the 2000 killing of Ukrainian investigative reporter Heorhiy Gongadze, whose decapitated body was found in a forest near the capital. Kuchma was allegedly tape-recorded by one of his bodyguards telling a cabinet minister to get rid of Gongadze. Kuchma has said the tapes were fabricated.
Yushchenko also singled out the privatization of a huge steel plant, the Kryvorizhstal factory in eastern Ukraine. It was sold to a consortium that included the president's son-in-law, at a heavily discounted price, according to the opposition.
"There will be accountability for these crimes," Yushchenko said. "Kryvorizhstal was stolen. The entire business community looked at it with shame. The letter and the spirit of the law in Ukraine will be restored." But he stressed that many other controversial sales of state assets fell within the law of the time and would not be challenged.
He spoke in offices that his campaign commandeered on the edge of Independence Square, the scene of 15 days of noisy but peaceful mass demonstrations on his behalf. He held two young daughters to his chest as he greeted his American-born wife, Kateryna Chumachenko, shortly before addressing the flag-waving throng outside.
"I am very proud as a citizen because during these 15 days, one can say that a nation was established in Ukraine," he said in the interview. "This is a huge victory and I'm happy," he added.
In the dim light of the office, his face showed the effects of what he called a poisoning last summer by government authorities: He was scarred and blackened from forehead to chin. Doctors in Vienna who treated the 50-year-old former prime minister said they have not established the cause, but have not ruled out deliberate exposure to a toxin.
Yushchenko played down the transformation of his formerly youthful good looks. "Eighty percent of the people in the same situation never came back to this world, even in a wheelchair. I didn't pay the highest price," he said.
A few hours earlier, Yushchenko watched as Kuchma signed into law a package of bills that reform the country's tarnished electoral system but also, beginning in 2006, limit the powers of the office that Yushchenko hopes to hold. The package was the result of a compromise designed to defuse the crisis that has paralyzed Ukraine since the runoff between Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who was initially declared the winner.
Last week, the Ukrainian Supreme Court invalidated the results and set a Dec. 26 date for a rematch.
After a difficult internal debate, opposition supporters said they decided that a check on a future Yushchenko presidency -- by a parliament in which Kuchma backers remain strong -- was the price they had to pay for changes in voting laws that could get their man into office.
As late as Tuesday night, Yushchenko's parliamentary coalition, Our Ukraine, was still split on whether to back the compromise, with at least one-third of the members opposed, according to Petro Oliynyk, a member from Lviv in western Ukraine.
Yushchenko sent his coalition members a message saying he supported compromise, but some of them demanded that he tell them in person. Yushchenko spoke for an hour to his party members off the floor at parliament Wednesday before they filed into the main chamber to vote, Oliynyk said.