Ukraine's Former Orange Revolution Allies Break Off Coalition Talks

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's former Orange Revolution allies have broken off coalition talks after becoming deadlocked over who would become parliamentary speaker, the party of President Viktor Yushchenko said Saturday.

Yulia Tymoshenko (R) with coalition members

The negotiations had dragged on for weeks after no party managed to win a majority in March parliamentary elections in this former Soviet nation _ and the powerful pro-Russian opposition hailed the impasse as a proof of its right to enter government.

Our Ukraine spokeswoman Tetyana Mokridi said the negotiations failed because of the Socialists' insistence on getting the parliamentary speaker's job.

"The talks were stopped because of the Socialists' position," Mokridi said.

Yushchenko has also been reluctant to concede the key prime minister's post again to his former ally-turned-rival, Yulia Tymoshenko.

But later in the day, during his weekly radio address to the nation, Yushchenko accepted that Tymoshenko's party had a right to nominate the premier because it won the second most votes after the pro-Russian opposition Party of the Regions.

Our Ukraine lawmakers have said that in that case, the speaker's job should fall to the party with the next best performance in the election _ Yushchenko's _ rather than the fourth-placed Socialists.

Tymoshenko claimed that Our Ukraine's refusal to concede the speaker's job was an excuse to quit the coalition talks and make a deal with Party of the Regions.

"The speaker's post was just a pre-planned tactic to move to forming a different coalition with other political forces," she said.

Tymoshenko vowed to go into opposition if Our Ukraine forms a coalition with the Party of the Regions, saying that would be "a major betrayal of national interests."

Yushchenko, a one-time opposition leader, came to power in January last year in the wake of the Orange Revolution protests over fraud in the 2004 presidential election.

But his pro-Western Orange coalition split and he fired the charismatic Tymoshenko last year. His government has become unpopular because of political infighting and disillusionment at the poor economic situation.

The Party of the Regions, led by Viktor Yanukovych, the man whose fraud-tainted victory in 2004 led to the Orange Revolution protests, has insisted that it should be in government and accused Yushchenko of leaving the country rudderless during the coalition talks.

"This is the logical end," said Anna Herman, spokeswoman for the Party of the Regions.

She expressed her party's confidence that a "broader coalition" will be formed. "I am sure that both pro-presidential forces and the Regions will found a common language," Herman said.

Mykola Rudkovsky, a top lawmaker from the Socialists, said he was "surprised" at the end of the talks. "We did our best" to help the Orange team unite and "needed only a few key positions," he said.

Analysts have suggested that Yushchenko could find it easier to swallow offering his former presidential opponent a share of power than Tymoshenko, because of deep personal rivalry between the former allies.

Such a move, although deeply controversial, could help to heal the divisions between the Ukrainian-speaking west and largely Russian-speaking east of the country, where Yanukovych has his power base.

"It's a little bit early to consider the (Orange) coalition buried," said political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko, adding that there is still a slight hope for them to find a compromise.

"But if so, the Party of the Regions will emerge on the stage," he said. He suggested that Yanukovych's party might form a majority with either the Socialists or with Our Ukraine.

The parties have until June 27 to form a governing coalition, after which Yushchenko has the right to dissolve parliament and order new elections. However, the Constitution does not oblige him to do so and the current acting government could stay in place.

Source: AP