Ukraine's parliament has sacked the country's interior minister, in what could be a powerful blow to Yulia Tymoshenko, the prime minister, who is running for president in an upcoming election.
The move was initiated by the Regions Party of Viktor Yanukovich, who faces Tymoshenko in the February 7th runoff vote.
The opposition party accused Yury Lutsenko of not adhering to court decisions and of failing to act when the printing press producing election ballot papers was attacked.
The motion, at a special session of the 450-seat parliament, was narrowly passed by 231 votes on Thursday.
Tymoshenko responded by saying Lutsenko would continue to head the ministry as its first deputy minister, Ukrainian news agencies reported.
"Today at a government meeting, Lutsenko will be named the first deputy, the acting head and he will head the interior ministry," she was quoted as saying by local agencies.
Yanukovich aides said the loss of Lutsenko from his role as interior minister would deprive Tymoshenko of chances of rigging the vote and doom her hopes of victory.
"Parliament has brought to a stop the inglorious career of Lutsenko," Mykola Azarov, a top Yanukovich aide, said.
"In a few days time, the Ukrainian people will bring to a stop the inglorious career of Tymoshenko."
Volodymyr Fesenko, the director of Penta, a Ukrainian think tank, said the decision "means the Regions party has succeeded in weakening its rival in a significant part of the election process."
The opposition in parliament has tried to sack Lutsenko several times, most recently last year after German police said they had detained him at a Frankfurt airport for drunk and disorderly behaviour.