Yushchenko 'Reaches Deal' With Ex-Orange Allies

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president, Viktor Yushchenko, appeared today to have secured an agreement from his former allies in the Orange revolution to form a coalition government, in an attempt to draw a line under 18 months of political instability.

Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko speaks to members of her faction in the country parliament in Kiev.

Roman Bezsmertnyi, who has led three months of bruising coalition talks for Mr Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc, said an agreement had been reached late last night to appoint Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister.

Ms Tymoshenko, the president's former comrade in arms for the pro-western Orange revolution of November 2004, has since become a bitter political rival.

Mr Bezsmertnyi told parliament: "Yesterday the three political forces finished work on coalition agreement. Today we are preparing it for signing". Most observers expected the deal, which gives a Yushchenko ally the key post of parliamentary speaker, to go ahead.

The deal marks a climbdown for Mr Yushchenko, who fired the ambitious Ms Tymoshenko from the post of prime minister only nine months ago, claiming she was dishonest. The president has been forced to accept a coalition with her bloc and the smaller Socialist bloc after his party's 13% showing in March's parliamentary elections.

Since he came to power in December 2004, Mr Yushchenko's popularity has been eroded by a series of corruption scandals surrounding his family and officials, and bitter rivalries within his liberal pro-western administration. The man he defeated, the former prime minister Viktor Yanukovich, has seen his ratings rise.

Taras Pastushenko, a spokesperson for Ms Tymoshenko, was cautious about the agreement and noted that it had to be signed before the end of Friday or Mr Yushchenko would, under the constitution, have to call another parliamentary election. "We are still waiting for the three main players to get the agreement of their parties," he said.

Ms Tymoshenko told parliament: "We won democracy for Ukraine. The very creation of the coalition defines Ukraine's course for many years ahead and will move Ukraine into the European community."

Yesterday's coalition agreement came after weeks of squabbling between Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko over the composition of the government, during which Mr Yushchenko's bloc repeatedly threatened to join forces with his former adversary Mr Yanukovich.

On Tuesday, Mr Yanukovich's bloc, which garnered about 35% of the March vote, claimed that a series of defections meant it nearly had enough MPs in parliament to form a coalition on its own.

The stand-off has also accentuated the pro-Nato stance of Mr Yushchenko, who has this month had to delay war games in Ukraine's south led by the western military alliance. Protests by pro-Russian activists in the region forced 200 US troops to return home without completing preparations for the exercises.

Mikhail Pogrebinsky, an analyst, said: "I think the coalition will go ahead. It will be weak but that does not mean it will fall apart after six months." He added that both partners needed each other more now as Mr Yanukovich's bloc would pursue more hardline policies and was therefore unlikely to be a coalition partner for either side.

He said that in practical terms the winner from the three-month deadlock was Ms Tymoshenko, and that she had now replaced Mr Yushchenko as the leading figure of the pro-western Orange coalition in Ukrainian politics.

Source: Guardian Unlimited