Ukraine Party Blocks Coalition Deal: Leader

KIEV, Ukraine -- The leader of Ukraine's pro-Moscow Regions Party on Sunday rejected proposals for parliament to elect the president, wrecking the chances of a government coalition with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Pro-Moscow Region Party leader Viktor Yanukovich.

Regions Party chief Viktor Yanukovich had for the last days been in coalition talks with the faction of his one-time rival Tymoshenko, in search of a deal that would have caused a political earthquake in Ukraine.

"I am unambiguously taking this decision," Yanukovich said in a statement posted on his party's Web site.

"My heart tells me that the election of a president in direct nationwide elections is the only correct decision which we can make," he said.

The coalition talks between Yanukovich and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, or BYUT, were reportedly aimed at installing the Regions Party leader as Ukraine's next president with Tymoshenko staying on as a powerful premier.

They were also focused on implementing changes to the constitution that would have seen the president elected by the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) rather than universal suffrage.

"He (Yanukovich) wasn't able to agree with becoming a president of the Ukrainian parliament but not of the Ukrainian people," Regions Party lawmaker Anna German told AFP.

Ukraine is due to have presidential elections early next year with the approval ratings of pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko in single digits and the economy in deep recession.

The statement didn't explicitly say that the talks had collapsed but Yanukovich said that "the approach of the presidential elections removes all sense from the creation of a new government."

He added: "I have no intention to politicize the negotiations or their collapse for short-term political ends."

Reports last week that a coalition deal was imminent had sent shockwaves through Ukrainian politics partly because Yanukovich and Tymoshenko were bitter foes in the 2004 Orange Revolution that ousted the old elite.

Yanukovich said the talks with the BYUT had created chances for the future and working together amid the economic crisis remained a priority.

"We are obliged to use it. This will happen immediately after the presidential elections."

The latest opinion polls on the presidential race have given Yanukovich around 25%, well ahead of the 15% rating of Tymoshenko, whose government's popularity has been hit by the dire economic downturn.

Ukraine's economy - still heavily dependent on export markets - has been pummeled by the economic crisis and is expected to enter a deep recession this year.

Polling a similar rating to Tymoshenko is the man who could yet emerge as the election's dark horse, Areseniy Yatsenyuk, a youthful pro-Western protege of Yushchenko and ex-parliament speaker.

The Regions Party traditionally draws its support from the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, where the country's heavy industry is concentrated, although it also campaigns actively in the Ukrainian-speaking west.

Tymoshenko - a former businesswoman once known as the "gas princess" - has been seen as the champion of the pro-Western cause in Ukraine but has repeatedly shown readiness to embrace old foes.

Source: AFP