Ukrainian Leader's Party Shuns Pro-Russian Rivals

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's political parties got down to tough coalition talks on Thursday, with President Viktor Yushchenko's supporters saying they would not welcome a tie-up with pro-Russian rivals.

The fiery and beautiful Yulia Tymoshenko

At a news conference the leader of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party quickly moved to dispel expectations raised earlier of a broad coalition that would take in both wings of the political spectrum following last Sunday's elections.

"A broad coalition" including the pro-Russian Regions Party "is against the nature of democracy," said Yury Lutsenko, who topped Our Ukraine's list of election candidates.

The rejection came after Yushchenko on Wednesday called for pro-Western forces to use their slim win at the parliamentary elections to team up with their rivals to form a unity government and end months of infighting.

Near final results from Sunday's poll gave a narrow lead to an alliance of Our Ukraine and the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, raising the possibility of a reunion of the team that led the 2004 pro-democracy protests known as the Orange Revolution.

But on Wednesday the president said that coalition talks should also include the Regions Party led by his bitter rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

"The three political forces need to take a step forward... to put a full stop to this scandal," Yushchenko said in his comments in Berlin on Wednesday, referring to the bickering that has paralyzed government in recent months.

But Lutsenko said Yushchenko had underlined his commitment to the creation of a pro-Western majority with the Regions Party in opposition at a meeting earlier in the day.

Responding to Yushchenko's proposal that the opposition be given senior posts in parliament, and possibly the government, Lutsenko said negotiations were possible "on the rights of the opposition, which should be protected."

He also said Our Ukraine supported the candidacy of firebrand pro-Western politician Yulia Tymoshenko for prime minister.

Yushchenko has not said whom he favours as premier but aides, including a senior official in the presidential administration, have made clear that he aims to put Tymoshenko in the prime minister's post.

She is popular among more nationalist-inclined Ukrainians and those supporting efforts to wrest Ukraine from Russia's centuries-old dominance.

However her possible prime ministership raised fears of difficult relations with Moscow -- an issue highlighted by threats of a new gas dispute this week between Russian giant Gazprom and Ukraine.

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko shot to worldwide fame when they led the 2004 Orange Revolution to overturn a rigged presidential election victory by Yanukovych.

The revolution led to Yushchenko taking the helm and setting a pro-Western course that includes joining the NATO military alliance -- a moved fiercely opposed by Moscow.

For the last 11 months, however, Yushchenko was forced to deal with his bitter rival Yanukovych as prime minister, a chaotic period that forced the calling of Sunday's early election -- the third national poll in as many years.

The strong performance of Yulia Tymoshenko's Bloc in Sunday's poll allowed a revival of her on-off alliance with Yushchenko.

With 99.93 percent of ballots counted, the former Orange coalition had won just under 45 percent of the vote, giving it a narrow majority with 228 seats of the 450 seat parliament.

The Regions Party had 34.3 percent, or 174 seats, on its own.

Source: AFP