Ukraine Leaders Go Down To Wire On Coalition Talks

KIEV, Ukraine -- Bickering politicians in Ukraine toiled through a weekend of talks to form a government, with voters once elated by the "Orange Revolution" now wearily hoping the country can avoid social or constitutional upheaval.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (C) speaks during a meeting with parliamentary faction leaders (from L to R) Roman Bessmertny, Yuri Yekhanurov, Alexander Moroz and Yulia Tymoshenko

Pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, thrust into power after the 2004 mass protests, no longer chooses his prime minister under new constitutional rules, but can dissolve the parliament elected in March if it forms no stable coalition.

Frustrated at delays, he says the deadline for a government to be formed is Thursday.

The president says he hopes three groups behind the Revolution -- his Our Ukraine Party, ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc and the smaller Socialists -- will set aside their differences and forge a government team.

His party allies are hedging their bets and holding parallel talks with the Regions Party of Viktor Yanukovich, initially declared the winner of the presidential election in 2004 but humiliated when he lost a re-run ordered by the courts.

"Let me stress again: 82 days of talks have shown that career ambitions often outweigh the interests of state or even those of parties," Yushchenko said in his weekly radio address.

"Let's not look for external enemies here. Politicians should rather find within themselves strength for compromise and cooperation."

The two sets of discussions proceeded through the weekend.

An Our Ukraine official said differences had narrowed among liberals in a bid to restore the unity shattered when Yushchenko sacked Tymoshenko as prime minister last year. Yanukovich predicts a deal within days putting his party in government.

PARLIAMENT, GOVERNMENT HOBBLED

The impasse has virtually shut down parliament and hobbled government activity. A U.S. presidential visit was postponed as were war games with Britain needing the assembly's approval.

Yushchenko said this month he would not dissolve the chamber if talks failed. He has since been cautious, describing himself as a football referee "whose sole right is to use his whistle".

Yanukovich's Regions Party, more sympathetic to Moscow and opposed to the president's plans to boost links with NATO, came first in the March poll with 186 seats. But the three "orange" parties command 243 seats in the 450-member assembly.

Most rows among the liberals focus on dividing up top jobs.

The president has accused Tymoshenko of sabotaging the talks, but agrees she could become premier again.

Tymoshenko, who played a crucial role in the 2004 protests, was sacked after less than eight months in government to end prolonged infighting and her attempts to control markets.

Some presidential allies say that if she teamed up with Yanukovich it would restore investors' confidence and build on slowly improving economic indicators.

Tymoshenko remains popular among rank-and-file voters and her bloc had the best showing in March of liberal parties. She rejects any prospect of a government including Yanukovich, the figure so fiercely opposed in the revolution.

Commentators likened the deadlock to the debacle of Ukraine's 4-0 loss to Spain in its World Cup debut last week.

"It is, of course, silly to draw parallels between a shameful match and the parliamentary shambles," wrote the weekly Zerkalo Nedeli. "But events confirm an old hypothesis. We are incapable of seizing any opportunity which fate sends our way."

Source: Reuters

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