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Ukrainian president Zelensky rejects PM's resignation

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected his prime minister's offer to resign and asked him to stay on the job Friday. Oleksiy Honcharuk had been caught on tape saying Zelensky — a former sitcom star — knows nothing about the economy.

Oleksiy Honcharuk given another chance after he was caught on tape criticizing president

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky called the situation 'unpleasant,' but decided to reject his prime minister's offer to resign. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk's offer to resign and asked him to stay on the job Friday after Honcharuk was caught on tape saying Zelensky — a former sitcom star with no previous political experience — knows nothing about the economy.

In a video released by Zelensky's office, the president called the situation "unpleasant," but said he had decided to "give a chance" to Honcharuk and his cabinet.

"I decided to give you and your government a chance if you manage to solve important issues that the public worries about," Zelensky said as he faced Honcharuk across the table. "It's not a moment when we can afford economic and political destabilization."

He instructed Honcharuk to look into multimillion-dollar bonuses given to executives of the state-controlled gas company and high salaries for cabinet ministers that angered many in the economically struggling nation, directing the prime minister to report his findings by Feb. 4.

This photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office shows Zelensky, left, speaking with Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk in Kyiv on Friday. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via The Associated Press)

The furor comes at a fraught moment for Zelensky, who has found himself in the middle of the impeachment case unfolding against U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington. Trump stands accused of withholding nearly $400 million US in military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country's leader to investigate Trump political rival Joe Biden.

In a Facebook post, Honcharuk praised Zelensky as "an example of transparency and decency to me" and added: "In order to dispel any doubts about our respect and trust for the president, I have written a resignation letter and submitted it to the president for introduction to parliament."

Zelensky fears 'internal political crisis,' analyst says

The offer to step down was subject to approval by the Rada, Ukraine's parliament, which is dominated by Zelensky's party. But analysts said the dismissal of Honcharuk and his cabinet would badly damage the president and upset Ukraine's talks with international lenders.

"Zelensky fears an internal political crisis and doesn't want problems in talks with Western investors and the International Monetary Fund," said Volodymyr Sidenko, an analyst with the Razumkov Center think tank. "Honcharuk's resignation can destroy the idea of the government's unity and cast a doubt on Zelensky's ability to control the situation."

Sidenko charged that tycoons unhappy with the recent strengthening of the Ukrainian currency — a move that hurt their business — could be behind the scandal. "Several big oligarchs who own export-oriented businesses were interested in the resignation of Honcharuk's cabinet," Sidenko said.

Honcharuk, seen in this 2019 photo, offered to resign after the tapes emerged. (Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press)

Earlier this week an audio recording surfaced in which Honcharuk appeared to make disparaging comments about Zelensky's understanding of economics. He called Zelensky "a layman" in economics and said the president should be better educated about the national currency.

Zelensky is a 41-year-old former comedian whose only political experience before his election last spring consisted of playing a Ukrainian president on TV. He starred in Servant of the People as a high school history teacher who is propelled to the highest office after his rant against government corruption goes viral.

Honcharuk said that the recording was a compilation of "fragments of recorded government meetings," and he blamed unidentified "influential groups" for making it look as if he didn't respect the president.

"It is not true," the prime minister insisted.

Zelensky called for an investigation into the source of the recording, saying, "I demand that in two weeks, as soon as possible, we obtain information on who was recording the tapes."

While Zelensky is a member of Servant of the People party and Honcharuk is an Independent, it was Zelensky who proposed him to the parliament as prime minister.

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