Ukraine passes 2006 budget in first reading

Lawmakers on Tuesday approved bills needed to back the ex-Soviet nation's bid to join the World Trade Organization, and gave initial support to the 2006 draft budget. Lawmakers passed the budget in a 270-0 vote in the first of three required readings after a heated debate.

The draft budget sets the income at 120.3 billion hryvnas (US$24 billion, Ђ20 billion) and expenses at 130.2 billion hryvnas (US$26 billion, Ђ21.7 billion), leaving a deficit of 9.9 billion hryvnas (US$1.98 billion, Ђ1.65 billion).

Finance Minister Viktor Pinzenyk initially accused the parliamentary budget committee of increasing expenses, which would have made the deficit almost 10 times larger, the AP reports.

The world's largest steel producer, Mittal Steel, bought the Kryvorizhstal plant for 24.2 billion hryvna (US$4.8 billion, Ђ4 billion) in Ukraine's largest-ever privatization auction. Lyudmila Suprun, acting head of parliament's budget committee, accused the government of failing to duly cooperate with lawmakers to draft a budget acceptable to all.

Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn called on lawmakers to support the draft, warning that otherwise, the government would hold lawmakers responsible for the impasse ahead of next March's parliamentary elections. A.M.

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