Yanukovych Calls On Yushchenko To Pressure Party Over Move Into Opposition

KYIV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's prime minister and his allies on Thursday called on President Viktor Yushchenko to persuade his pro-Western bloc to reconsider its move into opposition, saying such a step would be bad for the country.

PM Viktor Yanukovych

In its announcement Wednesday, Yushchenko's Our Ukraine grouping also said it would ask to withdraw three ministers from the Cabinet.

Relations between the pro-Western Yushchenko and pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych have worsened as the government puts the brakes on Yushchenko's policy goals - most importantly the drive to secure NATO membership.

Yanukovych, whose support lies mainly in the Russian-speaking east and south, is trying to persuade Our Ukraine to enter into a formal coalition agreement and shore up his authority.

"I believe that we, together with the president, will have enough strength to cope with the emotions of some politicians," he told reporters.

The two politicians were bitter rivals in the 2004 presidential campaign when fraud triggered the Orange Revolution mass protests, propelling Yushchenko into power. Yanukovych rebounded less than two years later to win the March parliamentary elections and form a governing coalition.

They signed a unity pact in August that led to Yanukovych becoming prime minister; in return, some of Yushchenko's allies were given seats in Yanukovych's Cabinet.

Despite months of negotiations, however, Yushchenko's party failed to reach an agreement to join the governing coalition led by Yanukovych's Party of the Regions, and the two parties have bickered over the unity agreement.

Yanukovych's allies warned of political instability if the president's supporters leave the government.

"I cannot imagine that the presidential force can be in opposition to the governing coalition and what negative consequences it can bring for the country," said Yanukovych ally, lawmaker Yevhen Kushnaryov.

"I believe we have all grounds to find a compromise. Otherwise we will have a big confrontation," said another pro-Yanukovych lawmaker, Vasyl Tsushko.

But Our Ukraine members in parliament vowed the bloc would not join the governing coalition.

"We cannot be in two places at one time. So we can be only in the parliamentary opposition," said Our Ukraine legislator Vyacheslav Kyrylenko.

Source: AP